Broadway Quality

An email newsletter from Musical Theatre West included a few press blurbs about their current production of CATS, which I have not seen. One that caught my eye was:

– Orange County Register

Broadway is a wonderful thing, but I hear so many people from all walks of life hailing Broadway as the pinnacle of theatrical achievement and the highest quality theatre available.

I believe that to be false.

Everywhere that theatre is produced there are good shows and bad shows (I’ll try not to focus on the bad, which means no more mention of CATS, or the production I saw last year). You can’t always have a hit. I saw Phantom of the Opera on Broadway a few years back and I was extremely disappointed. The acting was terrible, the singing was alright, and the production design as a whole was, I’m sure, impressive 20 years prior when it first opened! Then I saw Avenue Q and had tons of fun. I’ve seen a ton of national tours as well which claim to be “Broadway in your town.” Some are great, some not.

Broadway to me isn’t synonymus with good theatre. Though when I think Broadway I think EXPENSIVE. There’s a lot of money that goes into the production which often lends itself to a certain amount of polish that goes into the performance. You know, the difference between a film shot on $200,000 cameras versus your $200 FlipHD. But that doesn’t mean the story, the talent, or the ideas are good. They just have better access to those resources.

Rick Culbertson separates Good/Bad theatre from High Quality/Low Quality. Good or bad meaning whether you think the show is good or not, and quality referring to production values and that level of polish. I’m not a huge fan of his choice of words there, but the concept is sound. Broadway is the center of high production value, but in no way has a monopoly of theatre that is good.

40 years ago, Broadway was essentially the center of theatrical production. Today with all the regional theaters around the country, Broadway is a destination for productions that usually start elsewhere. And it’s no longer the final destination for some of these shows.

So when someone says calls a production “Broadway quality” I will usually want to assume they’re talking about production values. I’ll think of some of the sub-par acting I saw on Broadway and then the incredible truths I have witnessed on a nearly bare stage in Los Angeles.

Broadway is just the center of commercial theatre these days. With the regional theatre movement in the latter half of last century and the local theatre movement gaining momentum today, I don’t think there’s one place that can be associated with good theatre.

No matter the cost of production or ticket, there’s a lot of good theatre out there and there’s a lot of bad theatre out there. When something is good, call it good. No need to make comparisons that don’t make sense.