Theater Journal for Dec. 12, 2001

2001: New Perspectives

by John Kenrick

When I was a small child, Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey presented my generation with an awe inspiring – if somewhat forbidding – picture of what the new millennium would bring. In that vision, humankind would have its earthly business so well in hand that it could focus its energies on exploring and colonizing the solar system.

As it turns out, 2001 finds humankind hopelessly mired in the same puerile disputes that have plagued our species since we rose from the mud. Wars and rumors of wars abound, terrorists are active on every continent, and it takes a little doing to find the lights shining through this time of darkness.

As a theatre lover, and as a lifelong New Yorker, I found 2001 a year in which my perspectives were challenged and profoundly changed. Up until this year, I was convinced that the Broadway musical comedy was dead. The triumph of The Full Monty and The Producers proved that I was gloriously wrong. Until this year, I took the bustling life of my native New York for granted ' and we all know that illusion is shattered forever. And until this year, I had been convinced that most of American popular culture wouldn't give a damn if the Broadway musical were to disappear from the map. The aftermath of September 11th proved that I was gloriously wrong about that too.

The new millennium that has finally dawned almost two years behind schedule offers us a strangely altered world. Like it or not, some of our basic perspectives on reality changed this past year. The day-to-day sense of safety that most Americans had taken for granted for so long is gone, and in our fast shrinking world even the most seemingly irrelevant tribal wars in distant third world countries can threaten us right here in Hometown USA. It turns out that we truly are our brother's keepers after all, and that all humankind qualifies as our brothers and sisters.

Now I realize that is rather high falutin' talk for musical theatre web site, but these are high falutin' times. Great forces are at work in the world and emotions are running high. With all that is going on, it has been amazing to see how everyone has taken the time to recognize the importance of Broadway and to support New York's theatrical community. Yes, several shows closed in September, but each of them had been doing poorly anyway. The overwhelming majority of Broadway and off-Broadway productions struggled through, found reviewed audience support and are playing to healthy houses today.

Some credit for this goes to the political leaders and media figures who called on Americans to come to New York and support the theatre. Credit also goes to the producers, actors, musicians, and other theatrical workers who made sacrifices and kept so many shows alive. But in the end, the ultimate credit goes to the hundreds of thousands who set their fears aside and poured into New York's theatres over the last few months. And not just to see established hits either! At a time when most experts would say that social satire wouldn't stand a chance, mainstream audiences have turned the out outrageous spoof Urinetown into a sold-out Broadway hit. Who da' thunk it?

It seems that the theatre – and musical theatre in particular – really do matter, and to an awful lot of people. Granted, the Tony Awards will probably never beat the ratings for the Super Bowl or even (heaven help us) the Emmy's. But when America's values and culture came under attack, Americans gave New York and Broadway an extraordinary show of emotional and financial support. When it finally came to backing words with dollars, the Republicans in Congress short changed New York, but the American people have not.

What lies ahead in 2002? Your guess is as good as mine. But I can tell you this much: I'll be holding my loved ones a little closer, appreciating the gift of life more deeply, and cheering on the shows I love more wildly than ever.

My best wishes to you for a great holiday season, and for a New Year blessed with health, prosperity, and – more than ever – a renewed sense of peace.

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