Friday, December 15, 2006

"The next time you see me coming, you better run ..."*

Now I know how an undertaker feels. Nobody's real happy to see you.

I've been going to New York to see Broadway since the early '90s, but I've never been on a streak like this.

Two shows that I saw in the last two months announced closings immediately afterward.

High Fidelity, based on the Nick Hornby book and resulting movie (but with original music), is closing Sunday after only 14 performances and 18 previews. It purported to tell the story of Rob and his record store buddies, their loves and losses (mostly losses) but to their own soundtrack. The success of Rent notwithstanding, apparently Broadway's not quite ready for this. Or, at least the main New York Times critic isn't. Ben Brantley pretty much hated it, calling it one of his top five most forgettable Broadway musicals, and he couldn't remember the other four. Ha.

But that wasn't as bad as his slam of The Times They Are a Changin', the unlikely pairing of Twyla Tharp's circus choreography, Bob Dylan's music and lyrics and a fever-dream of a plot. "Ms. Tharp," Brantley wrote, "is one of the bona fide, boundary-stretching geniuses of modern dance. And when a genius goes down in flames, everybody feels the burn." The show closed on Nov. 19, after opening on Oct. 26. That's 35 previews and only 28 performances.

I now have two souvenir Playbills.

As the most important critic on the most important newspaper in the theater world, Brantley has the power to close shows in a single bound, um, review. It's a huge responsibility.

The critic will say he's doing you a favor, that he suffers so you don't have to. His responsibility is to his readers, not the theater company, actors, musicians, etc.

That's all true. Especially, apparently, the suffering part.

I have to say that, as a Dylan fan, I liked more parts of Times than I didn't. The ringmaster/MC reminded me of more sinister -- or more obvious -- Engineer from Miss Saigon. And they didn't tart up the vocals too much. I was afraid it would sound like Up With People Sing Dylan! I liked the dancing more in Twarp's previous hit Movin' Out, but that's also the best dancing I've seen in stage in years so perhaps that's unfair comparison.

For any of its faults, High Fidelity had wit and heart and some subtleties perhaps lost on a big stage, but I laughed at tiny bits in homage to Talking Heads and Devo. And Jay Klaitz is the new Jack Black who was the new Chris Farley. Klaitz's Barry still brought down the house with his unlikely R&B finale.

I'll be seeing other new shows soon. I hope I'm not bad luck.

Perhaps not. I did see a little show called Wicked on Friday, Oct. 31, 2003 (yep, Halloween, strangely enough) on only its second official performance and it's done pretty OK.

-Michael K.

* Thanks to Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited"

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