Friday, June 20, 2008

The end of the Affair

T.S. Eliot famously wrote that April is the cruelest month, but apparently for struggling Broadway shows, June and July can be pretty nasty, too.

I remember last year around this time - just after the Tony awards - a couple of shows that I wanted to see during my July trip to New York City, the revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company and August Wilson's Radio Golf, posted closing notices. At least this time, I actually had a chance to see A Catered Affair, which will have its last performance on July 27. When the show closes, it will have played 27 previews and 116 regular performances.

It's too bad that this tender slice of life about a 1950s family in the Bronx never really found an audience. It had a plot with a great deal of resonance, as the family faced the question of what to do with the military death benefit they received when their son was killed in Korea - spend it on a lavish catered affair for their daughter's wedding or use it to secure a bigger piece of the American Dream.

I know some reviewers found A Catered Affair somber and slow-moving, but I thought it was very life-affirming. Each of the characters is at a crossroads in life, and it definitely ends on a note of hope. I'm glad I saw the show for many reasons, including John Bucchino's absolutely gorgeous score. This was my introduction to his music, and I loved it. A couple of songs, "Our Only Daughter" and "Coney Island," are among my favorites of the 2008 Broadway season.

I'm also glad I had a chance to see Harvey Fierstein, as the family's live-in "bachelor" uncle. Harvey is such a Broadway legend and it really was great to see him on stage. In fact, I enjoyed all the performances, including Tom Wopat as the solid, working-class husband and father who feels unappreciated, Faith Prince as the wife who wants to give her remaining child the wedding she never had, and Leslie Kritzer as the daughter eager to go off and start her own life.

I didn't think A Catered Affair was doing that badly at the box office either. Last week, it played to 74 percent capacity, with an average ticket price of $68.41, although the audience was down by 3.3 percent from the previous week. I guess the producers didn't see much chance of things picking up over the summer, even though they recently announced the addition of a Thursday matinee, dropping a Wednesday night performance.

It just seems like every year, these exquisitely acted little musicals open up and struggle to find an audience. The stars of Grey Gardens, Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, both won Tony awards last year, and the show still closed in July. I'll happily go to New York for five days and see seven shows, but I know most people won't - they'll see one, or maybe two - if that. And as much as I love Hairspray and Wicked, I'd be the first to tell someone planning a trip to New York that if they're only able to see one show, they should try to see something they can't see in their hometown on tour, something with its original Broadway cast.

In a statement, Fierstein said, "Our team set out to create a new form of musical storytelling. What we achieved was raw, honest, emotionally daring theater. I couldn't be prouder of A Catered Affair. And, from all indications, the show will have a long and prosperous life in every sort of venue around the globe. That ain't chopped liver!"

I guess in a way, it was was daring: a small, quiet musical. I've seen quite a range of musicals this year - lots of dancing, no dancing; elaborate sets, minimal sets; musicals with rock 'n' roll scores, more symphonic scores, along with salsa, pop and hip-hop. I think A Catered Affair's music is among the most beautiful and its story, about the struggles of average, everyday people, left a lasting impression.


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Excellent advice to anyone visiting New York that they should see a show they're probably not likely to see on their own home turf.

It's a shame that a gem of a show like A Catered Affair probably won't tour. It deserves to be seen.

Esther said...

Thanks Steve. I read the New York City forum every once in awhile, and a lot of people just want to see Wicked, Hairspray, Mamma Mia, Rent or Spamalot! Unless you live hours away from a medium-sized city, chances are those shows will be within an hour's drive at some point.

I'd tell people to go see Gypsy, because Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines aren't going to tour! (And I think it's probably easier to get tickets for that than for South Pacific.) You know how much I love In the Heights. Even though it will tour, this is a chance to see a Tony winner for Best Musical with its original Broadway cast. How cool is that! And rather than seeing Rent, go see Passing Strange!

It's too bad A Catered Affair won't tour. It doesn't have a big cast or elaborate sets.