I take a lot of flack from my fellow journalists for being someone who, as a general policy, sticks to Broadway and major off-Broadway. That's not to say I don't see any off-off-Broadway, but I admit I don't follow it that well. I read the reviews (for off-off I particularly rely on Time Out New York write-ups by David Cote and Adam Feldman) and go to things that sound like I will really like them; I don't experiment much.
This is legitimate to me because there are so many things I want to see on Broadway and off-Broadway that I just don't have that much time to go to random off-off-Broadway shows. But lately I wonder if the dearth of interesting Broadway offerings will leave more room to explore off-off-Broadway. Now, those looking at a Broadway opening night schedule might not think there are far fewer shows opening. However, you have to note what a lot of those offerings are. More often in recent years, concert runs occupy prime houses while landlords wait for another, more fully-developed show. We also have concert/show hybrids like A Night With Janis Joplin and Let It Be (because we haven't seen enough Janis Joplin and Beatles shows).
And when shows do come to Broadway -- what will they be like? I didn't enjoy Hands on a Hardbody. In my eyes, it was a poorly constructed mess of a show. However part of me rooted for it to succeed because its failure was more worrisome to me than its success. When you look at the last couple of seasons, you will note that no truly original new musical (and by that I mean one not based on familiar source material) has become a hit. Before anyone posts in the comments, I know Hands on a Hardbody was based on a movie. But, let us face it, the majority of the ticket buying public did not know that. To most people, it may as well have been Lysistrata Jones. Whereas most people I speak to know that Kinky Boots was a movie; they may not have seen the movie, but they know it existed.
This summer there are two original musicals on Broadway, First Date and Soul Doctor. I wish them both success. I look forward to seeing First Date in a couple of weeks. I saw Soul Doctor -- a musical whose Kickstarter campaign raised $6 spread across two donors -- off-Broadway. At that point, it played like a vanity project desperately in need of a real librettist. I hope it has improved. After these August openings, it takes until If/Then for something else not based on a book or movie to come in. (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is based on a novel of a different name, Israel Rank.)
Hopefully all three of these shows will be hits and more people will bring original shows to Broadway. However if even just the two this summer flop, risk adversity will rise. It hasn't been that long since shows such as Next to Normal, with its non-palatable subject matter, and the big budget Memphis recouped. However it feels like it has been a while. The more musicals that appear sans familiar titles or marketable stars, the better it is for theater as a whole, but only if those shows succeed. Don't get me wrong -- each show adds to the creative landscape, whether a success or a failure. It is just failures make producers of other shows nervous.
The more nervous producers, the more Broadway will turn into a land of stasis and the more important off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway will become for people who like to see new works. This is of course nothing new in 2013; I am probably the 300th person to write about it. I had just previously been holding onto some delusion that the situation really was not that bad. Maybe I'll end up being right in the end, but, for now, it looks like someday soon I'll have to admit that my delusion was just that. Let It Be.