6- The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, December 1, 1994
The roar of the greasepaint,
the smell of the British musical
By MELISSA ROSE BERNARDO
If the 1980s was the decade of
overspending, that bad habit carried
overintotheAmerican theater as well.
In discussing theater in the '80s, we
might as well confine ourselves to
Broadway, because that's all there
Musicals reigned in the '80s, as
they still do today. After all, what
kicked off'80-'81 Broadway season?
That's right, theater fans, it's "42nd
Street," the quintessential Broadway
musical. The triumph of the chorus
girl from Allentown, and the por-
trayal of "naughty, bawdy, gaudy,
sporty 42nd Street" never fails to steal
the hearts of audiences everywhere.
Look up "broadway musical" in the
dictionary, and you're likely to find
The early '80s also saw the birth
of another pioneering musical,
"Dreamgirls," directed by Michael
"Chorus Line" Bennett. And let's not
forget "Little Shop of Horrors," the
first collaboration of later Disney team
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman,
which ran for well over 2000 perfor-
But then something happened.
Andrew Lloyd-Webber had been read-
ing some T.S. Eliot poetry, and he
must have been in heat, because he
created "Cats." That marked the be-
ginning of Webber's glory days in the
'80s, the flop "Song and Dance" not-
withstanding. (In '87 they would de-
velop the roller-skating nightmare
"Starlight Express.") "Cats" still runs
today, it's litterbox being the Winter
And on March 12, 1987, "Les
Miserables" was imported from Lon-
don, and acoupleofFrenchmen (Alain
Boublil and Claude-Michel
Schonberg) created the category of
the British 'mega-musical, a genre
which lives and reigns to this day.
Lloyd-Webber made his contribution
in 1988 by dressing up a chandelier in
"Phantom of the Opera," a tourist-
trap which still averages over 100
percent attendance weekly at the
The mega-musical, while a de-
lightful spectacle, continuously over-
shadowed more complex, more lyri-
cal shows of the decade, most notably
Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the
Park with George" and "Into the
Woods," plus the gorgeous "The
Mystery of Edwin Drood" and
"Chess." And though "La Cage Aux
Folles" made a campy splash, the
Brits were here to stay.
Thanks to soaring production costs
(all that dry ice doesn't come cheap,
you know), ticket prices rocketed.
"Les Miz" commanded a record $50.
(Today, the revival "Showboat" has
set a new record with $75.) The cost
of mounting a Broadway show be-
came ridiculous. So unless it was a
guaranteed hit - like a Cameron
Macintosh production imported from
London - why take the risk, said
producers. This explains the Broad-
way of the '90s, which can be called
Revival Road, or Sequel Street.
Fortunately, not everyone is tak-
ing this revival sitting down.
Sondheim is still punching out lyrical
Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to "Phantom" of the opera in Toronto and New York, but it's still trash.
masterpieces - after all, someone's
got to. And regional theaters across
the country are making names for
themselves with premieres and out-
of-town tryouts. (Where do you think
1993's "Tommy" came from? The La
Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, one of
the country's top regional theaters.)
And even if Broadway doesn't
show it, in the '90s, the play's the
thing. Dramas like "Angels in
America" have made quite a splash;
Tony Kushner's reactionary self-pro-
claimed "Gay fantasia on national
themes" has given the theater a great
face lift. The genre of "gay plays"
was born, no doubt as areaction to the
Republican repression of the '80s.
Off-broadway has become a won-
derful breeding ground, and play-
wrights like Sam Shepard, Terrence
McNally and Paul Rudnick are now
in their prime.
I must confess that on occasion I
have touted the merits of the mega-
musical; after eight viewings, "Les
Miz" still moves me.
But with any luck, the '80s will b
remembered as not the reign of the
Brits on Broadway, but as the spring-
board for a more intelligent, provok-
ing and often controversial theater of
John Hughes' of
Continued fom page 3
cence, these Brat Packers seemed so
cool: "Oh, to be sixteen and able to
relate." What's sad about this sce-
nario is the same thing that's sad
about "16" magazine: by the time
vere of '80s Brat
they're 16, kids have stopped reading
it. About two years ago, today's col-
lege juniors woke up and realized that
they were older than Ringwald's char-
acter in "Pretty in Pink." They'd
passed her up without even realizing
it, which meant that somehow most
people hadn't experienced the same
things she did. What a blow.
Pack mayhem remembered
Sure they had some things in com-
mon with the Brat Pack experience:
they attended a high school with a
football team and cheerleading squad,
they pained over a series of unrealis-
tic crushes and they may have even
attended Saturday detention. But on
the other hand, how many former
teens put lipstick on with their limited
cleavage, asked everybody they know
if they were virginal and brought sushi
for lunch? Molly Ringwald must have
been modeled after somebody, but
I've yet to meet her.
It's pointless to be detained by
longings for "The Breakfast Club"
golden years. We must come to term
with the fact that watching Ally
Sheedy turn dandruff into snow or eat
pixie sticks and bread will never be
the same. But that says nothing for St.
Elmo's fire. Forget watching it, it's
not too late to live it.
We'll stage a mass transfer to
Georgetown, rush to St. Elmo's and
introduce ourselves to every table until
we find the right one. We'll all be
come best friends, graduate, hang tigh#
in D.C. and live unhappily ever after.
Tony Kushner won consecutive Tonys for both parts of "Angels in America."
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