Friday, December 11, 2009

Broadway on Talk Shows

Well, I had never seen it before, but in the span of two weeks, I've seen Mary Poppins on The Tonight Show (which doesn't have a clip, but the full episode is here), and Fela (with Bill T. Jones) on The Colbert Report.

I don't have much to say on the subject except a few loosely collected thoughts:

  • Mary Poppins' segment was, IMHO, terrible. My first impression was "Why did they let the air out of the music of the movie? Couldn't they just do the music the way it was in the movie, which is basically what we're paying for?" The dancing felt less impressive too. When compared with the movie (as I'm sure EVERYONE is doing when they watch -- again, that's basically what they wait for) it suffers.
  • Fela's segment was also a bit odd, but worked a little bit better. It just seems weird in context of the show, in a way. The success of the segment on its own was largely the engaging performance of Kevin Mambo, who plays Fela.
  • However, beside the performance, I was far more engaged in Fela largely because, well, Bill T. Jones sat down for an interview. He talked about why the show exists, why it is important, and he put forward an argument that tells why Colbert Report watchers would be interested, rather than just people in general. The aspect of using music to speak truth to power--well, let's just say it's a good argument to put in front of Colbert's audience.
  • Mary Poppins, on the other hand, kind of appeared contextless: "Here's a Broadway show that wants your money. Enjoy?"
At the end of the day, it's a good step to bring shows to the talk-show circuit (Will straight shows find a way to do this? Will non-profits?) But you can't just plop a big fat crowd-pleaser with no context on whatever show has a good market share. You should get your artists to talk as well as perform, leverage your assets, and make the case for why the TV audience would want to see the play.

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