Saturday, November 10, 2007

Broadway blues

I know what it's like to be a fan excited about a trip to Broadway. All of the statistics indicate that Broadway lives on people like me - tourists. Many of us buy our tickets, reserve hotel rooms, travel long distances and request vacation time months in advance. Luckily, my New York City trip was last week. But I can really relate to these theatergoers who were affected by the stagehands' strike:

The New York Times: “It’s very disappointing,” said Linda Partner of Port Royal, Pa., who rode four hours on a bus with her three sisters and their two children to see “The Little Mermaid” at the Lunt-Fontanne at Broadway and 46th Street. “We don’t have a clue where to go or what to do.”

Geoffrey Hastead, 58, and his wife, Anne, 56, retirees from Liverpool, England, had arrived with tickets to see the nighttime performance of “Les Miserables” at the Broadhurst on West 44th Street. “We decided to stay a couple days just to see the show,” he said. “We’re very disappointed. For tourists, particularly, it’s not good.”

“I would say a little bit more than disappointed,” said Beverly Krein, 63, a Curves trainer from Fargo, N.D., who had come to New York with her daughter and granddaughter to see “Mamma Mia!”

The Associated Press: For Gregory Pavlick and Maryann Sugar, their 52nd birthdays came with bright hopes dashed by darkened Broadway theaters. Both stood disappointed on West 52nd Street after traveling to New York to celebrate, only to discover that "Jersey Boys" and "Hairspray" — both playing on the same block — were canceled Saturday by the Broadway stagehands strike. And it was going to take more than blown-out candles with birthday wishes to resurrect the Tony Award-winning smash shows. Sugar and three co-workers from the Ohio Department of Health arrived outside the Neil Simon Theatre for the "Hairspray" matinee after an all-night bus trip from Youngstown, Ohio. They hoped to see cast members Lance Bass and George Wendt; instead, there were only pickets standing behind police barricades. "We're very disappointed," said Sugar as her friends snapped photos of the theater marquee. For most of the group, "Hairspray" would have been their first Broadway show.

Agence France-Presse: Outside the Majestic, which normally shows "Phantom of the Opera," the longest running Broadway musical, theatergoers were angry and disappointed."It's our first time in New York and we were really looking forward to going to a Broadway play. This is the one I've always wanted to see my whole life," explained Kim Nilsson, visiting from California. "I don't know if we're ever going to come back to New York, so we're very disappointed. We planned our whole weekend around tonight's event."

Eight-year-old Audrey Klompstra from Canada looked close to tears as her mother told her that "Phantom" was canceled. "It's my daughter's birthday and she wanted to come because we've seen it on TV," her mother Krista said.

The Washington Post: "They canceled the show, honey," said Kim Fraioli, a trauma therapist from Bedford Corners, N.Y., breaking the news to Kaylee, 5, that she would not be able to see "The Little Mermaid" and its lead character. "I'm so sorry, and I promise you will get to see Ariel later," she said as her daughter's eyes welled with tears.

I really don't know enough about the issues involved to take a position on the dispute between the stagehands and the theater producers. I know that I've seen some amazing sets on Broadway, and I have nothing but respect for the skill required to build and maintain them.

But I do know that there are many people for whom a trip to New York City is a once in a year, or maybe even a once in a lifetime event. And going to see a Broadway show is a vital part of that experience. While they'll get a refund on the tickets, they may never get to see the show that they'd been looking forward to seeing all these months, or any show for that matter. And the money they spent to get to New York, to stay in New York, won't be refunded.

Certainly, some of the people interviewed for these articles seemed to take the strike in stride and simply adjusted their plans. Some of them expressed support for the stagehands. But I'm sure many people will return home disappointed. And I just have to wonder how likely they are to give Broadway, and New York City, another chance.

For everyone who has a stake in this - the craftspeople, the performers, the producers, the businesses that rely on tourism, the theater owners and the fans - I hope there's a quick resolution so Broadway can get back to putting on a show.

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