Every year I hear about the death of the new musical. Wholly original shows -- or, hell, just shows with new scores (it's hard to be truly "original" these days) -- get bad reviews and people act like there will never be a new musical again.
It's not altogether consistent or logical when this hand-wringing occurs. There wasn't much when Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson closed. Yet last season, when Bridges of Madison County floundered, members of the community acted like the end of an era had come upon us. For me, I felt the shuttering of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson said more about the industry than Bridges of Madison County's closure did. After all, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was pretty universally acclaimed. Bridges of Madison County, while it had its fervent fans, received mixed reviews and generally so-so word-of-mouth. If it had been a hit, it would have been because of its title. Then what would that have said? The truth is -- not all good musicals succeed on Broadway. But it is equally as true that a good new musical, or at least a musical that people like, still can find a home on Broadway.
In order for this to continue to be true, we need to give new musicals a chance. I think logically everyone would recognize that fact. Yet I have been shocked at how unsupportive people I know have been of The Last Ship. The Last Ship is the season's first musical to have an original score and only its second new musical overall. It's not based on a movie. It doesn't have movie stars in it. It has a large cast, so it is keeping a lot of theater people employed. It is, in theory, the type of thing members of the community always say they want to see. (And, while I am sure the die hards of the community would likely say it would be more ideal if the score was by Joe Iconis as opposed to Sting, you can't have it all.) But people aren't calling me excited to embrace it, instead they are waiting for it to close. These are the same people who at season's end will complain about the Broadway climate. It makes no sense.
I am excited to see The Last Ship tomorrow. I didn't like the commercials. I've liked some songs I have heard, but I didn't like Sting's performance at the Tony Awards. The plot doesn't seem like me. I realize the reviews weren't unqualified raves. It's a big new musical though. It's an original premise. I hope it's amazing. I don't want it to close. I want it to succeed. With all this talk of the theater crunch, the analysis of the box office and the reviews of early previews, people who claim to love the theater are (inadvertently) hurting it.
Now, before longtime readers of mine say it, I've been known to say a nasty thing or two about a show. There are things I have attacked in print, often repeatedly. I hate a lot of shows I see. But then I don't go shouting from the rooftop that tourists have killed the new musical. And I try not to judge things I haven't seen. It is hypocritical to try to beat down something you've never seen and then bemoan its loss when it falls to the ground.
A producer asked me this morning why I was going to see The Last Ship. I'm going because I'm looking forward to being transported by something I'm unfamiliar with. If it doesn't happen, that sucks. But maybe it will. That is what I'm hoping for. That is what all theater lovers should be rooting for.