Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson: A Eulogy

Bad News: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will close. The dirty sexy emo-rock show will play its final performance on Broadway on January 2, 2011. I’m so incredibly bummed about this.

Here we had an original American musical with no marquee name (other than the titular POTUS) or established brand. Critics loved it. I loved it. (Really, isn’t that enough?!?) And yet, sadly, they couldn’t sell tickets. For their money, the majority of tourists (most of the theatre-goers; the New York crowd was keeping the show running this long) want to see something they know. I suppose this is understandable; if you only get to New York once or twice a year and you’re buying four tickets (without discounts, these easily cost upwards of $500) you want to know you’ll enjoy it.

So what does this mean for artistic expression and exploration on Broadway? Will economic concerns make it so Broadway is, as a rule, taken over by Disney, star-studded events, and adaptations? (It should be noted that none of those three ingredients is a sure thing. The Little Mermaid floundered; Elling, boasting two movie stars, closed after a week of regular performances; and Crybaby, unfortunately, couldn’t find an audience. But those three things definitely help. It is why, for example, Fences sold out every performance.)

I wonder if Bloody Bloody’s fate would be different if it opened in the spring. Sexypants has been on Broadway since September, officially opening in October. So, essentially, when it closes it will have played for about three months. What if it officially opened in April, as is the case with several other new musicals slated for this season? Only one month later, in May, the Tony nominations would come out and BBAJ would (hopefully) receive a slew of nods (best musical; best score; best book; best rock star leading actor); this buzz would lift up the box office until the actual awards. At said award ceremony, it could have a decent shot at walking away with at least one, possibly several, statues. Then, the box office would explode. (See Memphis for a case study. Though, Memphis opened in October; I guess the lack of blood in the title makes it a little more family friendly for the occasional tourist.) And President Sexypants would reign on Broadway for a solid year, possibly more.

So is that the trick? Don’t open anything slightly risky in the fall—wait until the spring (like the way movie studios load all their award-buzz movies into the end of the year, rather than releasing, say, Black Swan in June)? Or what about two Tonys—one in the fall and one in the spring? Neither of those options is optimal or particularly feasible.

Does this mean that original, daring, passionate, scrappy shows will be relegated to off-Broadway only? Now, I don't mean to suggest there’s something wrong with running off-Broadway or that running off-Broadway somehow makes your show "lesser than"; indeed, there is often tons of terrific fare off-Broadway, like last season's Circle Mirror Transformation, and many shows have sustained long off-Broadway commercial runs (like The Fantasticks). But off-Broadway means a smaller audience. It means fewer folks can be inspired by something truly special. It means fewer people are exposed to art; to thought-provoking questions and prompts; to something not borne of binary code. I don’t know what the solution is—how to ensure good theatre, theatre that springs forth from the soul and not the wallet, has a chance at a wide audience. And the corollary to that conundrum is just how to get people to go see it once it hits the boards. That’s the $64,000 question.

I’ve often said that theatre (and movies and TV, et al.) doesn’t always have to say something or be innovative. Sometimes it can just be entertaining. And there are plenty of those shows out there. But I’ve always made this statement with the caveat that there needs to be room for both the entertaining and the pertinent. Now it seems that there is less and less room for the shows that more and more people should see. And that makes me incredibly sad.

Broadway just got a lot less sexypants.

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