The Gilded Age Of Broadway
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From the Daily Mail:

Phantom of the Opera – Broadway’s longest running show – to CLOSE after 35 years as it becomes victim of post-pandemic drop in visitors to NY

Broadway’s longest-running show Phantom of the Opera is set to close on February 18
The show will celebrate 35 years on January 26, 2023, just a few weeks before it shutters
The iconic show will be shutting its doors due to a drop in visitors since the pandemic and is reportedly losing about $1million a month
The cast and crew were reportedly told of the decision on Friday
Since its debut in 1988, the various casts over the years have performed the show more than 13,700 times

When I was a kid around 1970, I avidly read the Guinness Book of World Records, which sets the historical baseline for me for a lot of items. Back then, the longest running Broadway play was somewhat less that 8 years: Fiddler on the Roof had run for 7.8 years, Life with Father and Tobacco Road (both non-musicals) for a little over 7 years, Hello Dolly for 6.9 years, and My Fair Lady for 6.6 years.

I dunno, but my best guess is that The Phantom of the Opera is not 5 or 6 times better than My Fair Lady. My recollection of listening to the original cast recording of Phantom is that there’s one great moment of Puccini-esque grandeur on the second side, but that’s about it, while My Fair Lady is the most consistently catchy of all musical scores.

Another striking thing is that non-musical plays used to be competitive on Broadway with musicals, but not anymore.

I read a great story about the opening night of My Fair Lady on Broadway in 1956. Rex Harrison was overcome by stage fright due to the fact that he . could . not . sing and demanded that the first performance be canceled. The cast was notified that it was called off and they went off to eat and drink. But the producer arrived and he convinced Harrison to go on with the argument that he would ruin Harrison’s career and, on the bright side, “Nobody is going to notice you, Rex, they’re only going to be talking about her.” “Her” being 20-year-old Julie Andrews. So runners went out to Sardi’s and other theater-people watering spots and rounded up the cast and show did go on, and the most famous opening night in Broadway history ensued.

But My Fair Lady didn’t run for 35 years.

Oklahoma ran for 5.2 years from 1943-1948. South Pacific ran for 4.7 years. The Sound of Music ran for 3.7 years. The Music Man 3.4 years, The King and I 3.0 years, and Guys and Dolls for 3.0 years, Cabaret for 2.8 years (its 1998 revival ran for 5.8 years).

My impression is that the world isn’t as good at creating Broadway plays as it was during Broadway’s Golden Age, but it is notably better today at marketing them.

One interesting aspect of the golden age of Broadway was that in the postwar era a lot of money was pumped into the musical industry by corporations which would hold their annual sales conferences in New York and pay for custom musicals for their salesmen promoting this year’s product lines. This was the subject of a 2018 documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway:

It featured David Letterman writer Steve Young’s hobby of collecting albums from these postwar corporate musicals. (His main competitor was Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys.)

Watching Bathtubs Over Broadway (named after the epochal 1969 American Standard sales conference musical The Bathrooms Are Coming!), I developed a theory that, somehow, the art of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, and Frank Loesser was subsidized by these corporate musicals. On the other hand, I don’t feel like I ever quite nailed down my theory. So who knows?

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