Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's curtains for four shows

Today marks the final performance for two Broadway plays I loved, Joe Turner's Come and Gone and reasons to be pretty; along with a third I enjoyed very much, Exit the King.

I took a pass on the fourth show that's closing, Guys and Dolls. I really want to see this musical on stage someday but with lackluster reviews and a cast that didn't excite me well, I guess I'll have to wait for the next revival. According to Playbill, the producers are planning a national tour for 2010-2011, so maybe I'll catch up with it then.

Of course, like most Broadway plays these days, Joe Turner, produced by Lincoln Center Theater, and Exit the King were limited runs. Reasons to be pretty, a transfer from off-Broadway's MCC Theater with some cast changes, was open-ended.

Lincoln Center's Bernard Gersten told The New York Times that a presidential visit and a Tony for cast member Roger Robinson for Best Featured Actor in a Play weren't enough to justify an extension. “We ran the risk of extending and playing to half-empty houses."

It's too bad Exit the King couldn't have extended on the heels of Geoffrey Rush winning a Tony for Best Actor in a Play. As a dying monarch who isn't ready to leave life's stage he gives an amazing performance that's part comedy, part tragedy. Maybe Rush simply had other commitments that precluded it.

But I feel especially bad that August Wilson's Joe Turner and Neil LaBute's reasons to be pretty failed to find bigger audiences. Even though they're very different they were two of the most enjoyable experiences I've had on Broadway this season and I thought both casts were wonderful.

Joe Turner is a compelling story about the lives of African-Americans at the beginning of the 2oth century that had me enthralled for close to three hours. Reasons to be pretty's story of four working-class twentysomethings had me laughing hysterically and cheering for its hero.

I'm not sure what, if anything, could have been done to draw more people to these plays.

I was looking at, and it seem as if the only August Wilson play to run for more than a year on Broadway was Fences, from 1987 to 1988. Most closed far short of a year. And while LaBute has a long list of off-Broadway credits, this was the first of his plays to make it to Broadway.

I know all the arguments - Broadway depends on tourists, who want to see musicals or stars they recognize from movies or tv. But that doesn't mean it's not sad all the same.

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