Thursday, November 04, 2004

Theatre As Relevant Social Commentary

Recently 42nd St. Moon sent out an email blast about this blog to their marketing database.

In it was the following sentence:

"Hooray For What! is truly one of Broadway's lost gems, with an anti-war theme that seems surprisingly relevant. 42nd St. Moon won an NEA grant to restore this Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg/Lindsay & Crouse piece, and the timing couldn't be more appropos."

42nd St. Moon received the following response email today:

"Perhaps you did not notice that John Kerry's anti-war past did not get him elected.  Left wing anti-war day dreaming usually does not square with reality, thus Hooray for What's relevance is questionable."

I could argue that since hundreds of thousands of people poured into our very streets for anti-war protests as recently as a year ago, and since 48% of the voting populace supported Kerry just two days ago, the anti-war theme is highly relevant. (And in San Francisco, where the voters went for Kerry at an almost unbelievably high rate, even more so.)

The truth is, though, that artistic relevance isn't about popularity. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was relevant in the 50s, even as the majority of the South was defending segregation. "The Crucible", though set in Salem, was relevant during the McCarthy era, even as most of the country was caught up in fear of the red menace. "Lysistrata" is performed almost any time we are at war...not because it's pro-war or against war, but because it examines war.

Artistic relevance is about examining themes that resonate, crossing eras, crossing geographical boundaries and crossing party lines. The circumstances in "Hooray For What!" are clearly different from today's circumstances. But, when war is in the news; when Halliburton is in the news, when the Patriot Act is in the news...then whether you agree with the news or not, and whether you agree with the artistic statement or not...examining war, jingoism and war profiteering is relevant.

It's actually gratifying to be doing a show that starts such a conversation. To 42nd St. Moon the decision to do "Hooray" wasn't much different than deciding to do "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" or "Paint Your Wagon." It's about the artistic and entertainment value. The decision to do the show this season was made almost 2 years ago. We can call it lucky chance that the show also happens to push some buttons.

As Greg said to me: "How rare that a company devoted to forgotten musicals finds itself doing something "controversial"!!!'

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