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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

You Know It's Good Because It Has a Helicopter

This was a comment I overheard years ago after seeing a touring production of Miss Saigon.
I, myself, was a bit underwhelmed given all of the hype. To me, it was more like a parade of impressive sets. I was given the dual-cassette soundtrack for Christmas later on, but, as I had already dismissed the show, I didn't actually take it out of its case.
Some years later, I came across the cassettes and decided to take them along with me on a long solo road trip.  About a third of the way through the first act, I found myself puzzled. Was this the same musical I had seen live? Was this the show that I had dismissed as overproduced tripe? It couldn't be. This was amazing!
A short time after that, the rights to the show became available to smaller theatre companies, and I had an opportunity to see a production in a theater that couldn't have fit a helicopter in the building, much less on stage, so they didn't try.
Focusing more on the characters and the story rather than the elaborate sets, this production was, in my opinion, head and shoulders above the touring version I had seen years before. This, of course, is likely not true of all shows with highly-produced staging.. The very first musical that I saw on Broadway, Starlight Express, would probably not be much without its roller-skating ensemble and its roller-rink stage. The second musical that I saw on Broadway (on the same day, incidentally; long story), Les Miserables, however, could easily withstand the loss of its turntable stage and motorized barricade. I must admit, though, that these elements certainly did enhance the experience of a thirteen-year-old boy who didn't think he liked musicals. (Yes, your math is correct. I saw the original Broadway cast of Les Miserables. Even longer story. Jealous?)
Tough economic times have led to many broadway theaters taking the "less is more" approach to set design with mixed results, as detailed in this New York Times article.
What's your opinion?

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