I spent some time over my Cheerios this morning parsing out the new “Richmond Loves Broadway” package that Barksdale / Theatre IV is offering and, after a great deal of initial confusion, I’ve concluded it is a fair slice of genius.
My initial confusion stemmed from the somewhat weird amalgamation of productions from ostensibly 3 different companies. Furthermore, I have been imagining that the biggest threat to the primacy of Barksdale’s Broadway-quality production quality in Richmond would be the flashy shows that Jam Theatricals will be bringing in and here is Barksdale promoting “Wicked,” JT’s splashiest and clearly most popular (I know I’ve got my tickets reserved already…) Finally, this “one from column A, one from column B” kind of deal seems like it might dilute the traditional subscription seasons that the Barksdale and Theatre IV offer.
But, as with many things, this offer’s downside is also it’s upside and I’m thinking the up far outweighs the down. Taking the last first, from what I’ve read, traditional subscription sales have been essentially flat in the theater world for years so any cannibalism there would be minimal. And drawing from three production companies may be confusing to those of us who know and care about those things, but I expect most people won’t care and perhaps even consider it a “best of” kind of deal. If you’re a fan of musicals, it sure reads that way. (It also gives me a wacky idea about an even more general Richmond Theatre subscription where someone could buy 4 shows from any combination of theater companies in town – wouldn’t that be cool? Paging RAPT!)
And as far as promoting “Wicked,” well, there’s where the real genius comes in, in my opinion. There’s really no escaping this juggernaut coming to town so why not incorporate it, perhaps even ride its coattails a touch? The subscription may also inspire people who might have only been drawn to familiar titles like “Wicked” and “Sound of Music” to sample less-familiar shows in further-afield venues (i.e., “They’re Playing Our Song” at the Tavern).
That’s my somewhat analytical view of the enterprise but, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, I also think it is a unique kind of draw for people who could care less about the deeply affecting dramas (a la “Driving Miss Daisy”) or innovative comedies (a la “Well”) that Barksdale offers and just want to see the big, bountiful, extravagant musicals. When it comes to theater, some people don’t want to be weighed down by heavy main courses like Shakespeare or even light but filling appetizers like Sarah Ruhl, they just want dessert. Shouldn’t they have a menu too?
One last curiosity though: “Is He Dead?” finished up a well-reviewed run on Broadway last year while “They’re Playing Our Song” was on Broadway when I was in high school (aka, ages ago). So this new package is really Richmond Loves Broadway…Musicals No Matter How Long Ago They Were on Broadway, right? I guess that wasn’t nearly as snappy a title for the package.