Musical theatre, like most industries, is becoming increasingly automated. Technological advancements have made things so much bigger and more flashy- which, for the most part, I'm in favor of! I went to a STEM school, and I personally love technology and seeing the ways in which it evolves and what we can do with it.
However, sometimes I have to take pause and wonder… has it gone too far? Do we depend too much on technology? Even as someone who loves technology as much as I do, there is a line. After all, technology is fallible, just as people are. There are glitches, there are errors. When I went to Anastasia, during Quartet at the Ballet- a truly beautiful song, that I want to be able to appreciate fully- I couldn't even focus because of a glitch on the electronic background. Instead of the curtains I was supposed to see, there was just a square of bright green. A similar thing happened at Mean Girls.
The tragedy here, in my opinion, is that these shows don't even need it. They are smart, they are enjoyable, and they have incredible casts. Do they need the extravagance? Would it be possible to have a show without all the trappings?
I would argue yes, and that this has been proven several times, from the 2006 minimalist revival of Sweeney Todd that won two Tony awards (including best direction!) to Dave Malloy's 99 cent Miss Saigon. I'm not saying that there's no place for technological advancement, just that perhaps we use it too much.
Isn't it even borderline insulting, in a way, to the audiences? To stage every show like all of our senses need to be completely inundated at all times to keep our attention. Fellow Board member Rebecca Hodge wrote a piece about this in relation to The Band's Visit and a celebration of the silence in it, and I agree with her. Sometimes silence is the loudest sound, and I think that if shows weren't so obsessed with being the biggest and being the loudest, they could be more powerful.
Big Broadway shows are fun, but there's more to the theatre than just being flashy and having the brightest marquee on the block, however sometimes I feel that we’re losing that side of it. Ask yourself, if you take away all the lights, if you take away all the sets, if you take away all the costumes… what are you left with? Because while a love of theatre may be born in the theatre itself, it’s fostered in minivans on the highway where a teenager puts in the cast album for the thousandth time while the mom just takes a deep breath and tightens her grip on the steering wheel. It’s fostered in earbuds that adults put in and listen to while at work. It’s about thinking about it for weeks on end, remembering the plot and the emotions of the characters.
There needs to be something there. And if there’s not, no amount of fancy sets or costumes will change that, and if there is, all of that is simply extra. Unnecessary. A distraction. So that is why I plead with Broadway, as a deep lover of the art form and a fan… please consider a return to simplicity.