Robert Viagas is the editor of The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: June 2011 to May 2012. Below, StageNotes.net asks Mr. Viagas, ”How would you describe the 2011-2012 Broadway season?”
Given the economy people expected a contraction of both the number of productions and the amount spent on tickets. Suprisingly, it was exactly the opposite. Broadway had another season in which it sold more than a billion dollars with of tickets, and that’s billion with a “b.” Yes tickets are expensive—but there seems to be plenty of people willing to spend the money.
As I wrote in the preface to the 2011-2012 Yearbook, it was a richly diverse season of tuneful new musicals, delirious comedies, hard-hitting dramas and exuberant dances, plus revivals of some of the greatest works in the American theatrical canon: “Death of a Salesman,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Porgy and Bess,” in versions that earned their share of controversy, criticism…and several key awards.
Composer Stephen Sondheim, who turned 82 this season, rattled Broadway in summer 2011 by blasting Diane Paulus’s new shortened and punched-up version of “Porgy and Bess,” not just for assuming the vanity title “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” (elbowing out librettist and co-lyricist DuBose Heyward, Sondheim noted), but for bringing in Pulitzer laureate Suzan-Lori Parks to rewrite the libretto and even to change the show’s ending. Sondheim—a Pulitzer-winner himself—excoriated these maulings of the classic. But the result was pleasing enough to win “TGPaB” a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, incidentally beating a noteworthy revival of Sondheim’s own “Follies.”
The 2011-2012 season will be remembered for a pyrotechnic display of bravura performances, not least Audra McDonald’s Tony-winning turn as Bess. Audiences were thrilled by Danny Burstein’s heartbreaking performance as Buddy in “Follies,” Christian Borle as a Groucho-Marxian proto-Captain Hook in “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Nina Arianda as a fake (or maybe not) dominatrix in “Venus in Fur,” Ricky Martin as an audience-pleasing Che in “Evita,” Raul Esparza as a charismatic con-man in “Leap of Faith,” and Jeremy Jordan in TWO brightly etched lead performances in “Bonnie & Clyde” and “Newsies,” et al.
Even with all these, the showstopper performance of the season was James Corden’s brethless clowning turn in “One Man, Two Guvnors.” How good was Corden? In the Tony contest for Best Leading Actor in a Play Corden beat heavyweights Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frank Langella, John Lithgow and James Earl Jones, who were themselves giving stage-shaking performances.
It was a season packed with romance (“Once”), politics (“Newsies”), adventure (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) race relations (“Clybourne Park” and “Stick Fly”), families in crisis (“Other Desert Cities,” “Stick Fly”) and religion. Lots of religion. Two shows depicted the crucifixion of Jesus, “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” “Leap of Faith” enacted a tent revival. Holdover show “Sister Act” rocked a convent full of nuns singing gospel. Another holdover, “The Book of Mormon” continued to have fun (and earn a million bucks a week) with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“Once” won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, not just because the bittersweet Irish love story touched so many hearts, but because the show had a unique look and sound. In 1960 Richard Rodgers wrote “No Strings,” a musical that used virtually no strings in the pit. “Once” did the opposite: with a supporting cast of street musicians, it used only strings (plus an accordion).
And yet, 2011-2012 will be remembered as the season without a blockbuster—unless you count Hugh Jackman’s solo show that was so solidly sold out that they passed on the chance to be nominated for a Tony Award because they didn’t want to give out free tickets to all the potential voters. They sold them instead, kept the money…and watched as Jackman was given a special Tony Award anyway. But that show was only a limited run, as was the other SRO show, “Death of a Salesman.” “Once,” “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Newsies” were some of the biggest hits of the season, but none was solidly sold out until after the Tony Awards. There was no new “Book of Mormon,” “Jersey Boys” or “The Producers” this year.
Which is not to say that Broadway didn’t sell a lot of tickets. Though the number of tickets sold was down slightly, the overall gross for the season was a new record–$1.14 billion.
Keep reading this article on StageNotes.net.
Many of the people who work on Broadway keep scrapbooks of their experiences: photos, signed posters, ticket stubs, and, of course the Playbills. These are treasured keepsakes, something to be savored over a lifetime, and then passed on to friends and descendants. Playbill Books, a division of the iconic 128-year-old company that designs the programs for every show on Broadway, has expanded this idea into an annual project that has become a Broadway institution: The Playbill Broadway Yearbook. Taking the form of a high school or college yearbook, the eighth edition is packed with photos (more than 4,000 of them, many in color) and memorabilia from the entire 2011-2012 Broadway season.