What Happened To Broadway?

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So Kiefer Sutherland is headed to Broadway. He’s performing in a play called That Championship Season (I know, I also saw it and thought wait a secondthat sounds familiar ) …it was a movie that came out in 1982 (with Robert Mitchum, Martin Sheen & Stacy Keach) about a group of former high school basketball stars. The original play won the Tony and Pulitzer prizes, which are the Good Housekeeping Seal of theater (chances are no one’s going to complain about the script). So Kiefer’s going to the Big Apple, where he’ll star alongside Chris Noth, Jim Gaffigan, Brian Cox, and Jason Patric. Quite a lineup. Now here’s the thing: in the olden days of Broadway, it used to be that stage actors got lots of attention, and praise, flowers, and free drinks,  and not a lot cash  — but more respect than anyone. Only they were unknown outside of New York City. We knew about Newman and Brando, but essentially Broadway types stayed put. They won all sorts of awards but  that was it, recognitionwise. Then, in the 1970’s large numbers of them began to migrate to the West Coast where suddenly they started making tons of cash for a few hours of work, and everything changed. This is when Broadway became a stepping stone of sorts for guys and gals hoping to make it big in the movies. It was like this for a long time, where you’d come to Broadway, and make a splash before you’d head out to the West Coast (see: Streep, M., Kline, K., Weaver, S., Pacino., A. etc) to become a big star. Thing is, actors rarely ever came back to Broadway then, for two reasons. One) they lived in California and had careers in film and television and two) they lived in California and had careers in film and television. So we had crop after crop of actors, starting Off- Broadway, moving to Broadway, and then making a beeline for LAX without looking back. In the 1990’s everything started to change again. Broadway shows had always been super-expensive (especially the musicals) but now the cost of putting up a singing and dancing extravaganza  had skyrocketed and shows were closing very fast. If they didn’t have big audiences, they couldn’t last more than a few weeks because the electricity bills alone were killing them – so they’d close. End of story. It was pretty bleak (kind of like what’s happening to TV today). The question became then, how to get bodies in seats. What would Broadway theatergoers want to see most? Hmm. The theater  producers were flummoxed.  Well, they thought to themselves, it sure is tough to get someone to watch my show on Broadway when they’re far more interested in watching Cheers or Friends. Hmm. Which is around the time it dawned on someone that if they could get the stars of Cheers or Friends to be in their play, then maybe they could fill the theaters, and perhaps live happily ever after.  So Broadway producers started to tell their casting people to find stars from film and TV, since this was the only way to get people to shell out 60 t0 100 clams to see a show. And some stars of TV and film – not all,  but some – thought it was a great idea. The ones who worked all the time however, had trouble getting out of their year-round commitments (which is why you see lots of Hollywood types starring on Broadway in the summer when they get time off). And what does this mean for those strictly Broadway actors? Put it this way, if you’re one of those rare birds who just loves the theater and you want to stay in New York City forever and you want to star on Broadway, your chances of doing so are now vastly diminished. Because you’re not a household name. Which is what Broadway uses now. And needs, to sell tickets. And you probably don’t get to be a household name without starring in a TV show or a film (vicious circle: see how that works?)  And now Broadway producers are fighting over who can get the biggest star to come East for their play (or musical). Which brings us back to Kiefer Sutherland. Who’s starring in 2011. It looks like a great show – with an amazing cast. I’ll definitely see it. Oh wait, when they announce the plays featuring huge stars everyone immediately buys tickets for what is probably a pretty limited run. So by the time you finish reading this blog the show may very well have sold out. I’ll still try. Welcome to Broadway.Hollywood!

Today’s poll: 24 star Kiefer Sutherland is heading to Broadway next year. Which of his movies is your favorite?

1) Flatliners

2) The Lost Boys

3) The Three Musketeers

4) Young Guns

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