Say what you will about Tyler Perry's onstage antics as Madea, or about the artistic value of his work (something with which Spike Lee has taken issue), Perry is drawing audiences to live theatre that might otherwise not be there.
While I have not been terribly impressed with some of Broadway's recent "blockbusters" like Wicked and Spamalot, I cannot deny that both shows attracted demographics that had been long absent (or at least under-represented) in theatre houses for a while. Wicked brought tween and teen girls (and their parents), and Spamalot reached that all-important 18-34 male audience.
While I do cringe at the prospect of the Spider-Man musical, I must admit that it may invite a few audience members who haven't been to a live production in years - if ever.
The alternative approach of continuing to pander to the existing live audience with tried-and-true (read "overdone") chesnuts - the modus operandi of dinner theatres and community theatre groups - may be fiscally sound for the moment, but has one major inherent flaw.
Unlike theatre which has lived under the prognosis of "death" for around a century now, the audiences that hunger for typical live theatre fare are literally dying, replaced in decreasing numbers by artists coming to support other artists. They are not strictly "appreciators," like the the audiences they have succeeded, and often alternate between both sides of the "footlights" offering competing fare of the same type to the dwindling audience.
Moving forward, it is the role - if not the responsibility - of the modern playwright, artistic director, producer, and theatre artist to cultivate a new audience.
We must be willing to expand the creative process and our own definitions of theatre to draw in those audience members who heretofore didn't know (or didn't care) that we exist.
Historically, every new age of theatre has started with an experiment - driven by changes in the audience and social philosophy and by advances in technology.
What will the be the future of live theatre?
I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.