Mar 26, 2009

The L.A. File

I airlifted briefly into my beloved former hometown a few weeks ago, and had the great privilege to write up Michael Sargent, whom I blogged about a bit yesterday. Sargent is among the myriad reasons I'm glad I lived there so long, and also a nearly ideal poster child for how L.A. originals persist despite the paltry recognition and remuneration they get for their trouble. Rock on, sir.

I also chatted with Steven Leigh Morris, the LA Weekly's former theater editor, who I'm happy to report is still writing for them as much or more than ever before, and who will host the 30th annual Weekly awards next Monday. He's got an intriguing, and lengthy, piece about the state of the L.A.-born musical, which starts with this observation...
A truism heard around the country suggests that in times of hardship, people crave escapist entertainments. Yet over the past few years, L.A. has generated a wave of dark-themed musicals that have attracted local audiences for months — a development that suggests an openness to more serious, adult fare.

...and proceeds to this tendentious thesis:
These serious-themed musicals were presented on stages of 99 seats or less under economic circumstances — including token payments to actors — that are favorable to producers here, rather than in the financial pressure of New York. Producers there have concluded that dark-hearted musicals aren’t viable on Broadway or Off-Broadway; even our own larger theaters steer away from them, perhaps because they have Broadway on the brain...In fact, the economics of doing theater in New York are now so brutal, off-Broadway offers hardly any musicals at the moment, while Broadway musical fare consists of revivals and/or works that are comparatively escapist and lighthearted.

There’s nothing escapist about a large proportion of new musicals generated in L.A.’s smaller theaters. They take human agony by the horns and, utilizing song and sometimes dance, wrestle it to the mat. Is it the blinding sun, or the way it sets into the Pacific, that encourages such dark musicals on L.A. stages? And do they have a viable future?

It's worth reading the whole thing (and not just because SLM liberally quotes yours truly).

(Photo by Lori Shepler/Los Angeles Times)

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