Wednesday, February 27, 2013

You snooze, you lose (theatrically)

A reader asked me this morning how long "Fela!" would be in town. I had to tell him that, though it opened Monday night, it was already gone. One of the most exciting shows in recent memory played just two performances and then moved on to Atlanta. Virtually the same thing will happen next week with "American Idiot," which plays just three dates (although five shows) March 8-10.

Many things could account for abbreviated runs: availability of the production while it's in our part of the country, predicted ticket sales, etc. The size of the city may be a factor but doesn't necessarily relate directly: The Schenectady/Albany, N.Y., run of "American Idiot" also lasts three days, while Milwaukee gets only two.

Shows in the Broadway Lights season package run a week or more and have time to build word of mouth. But Blumenthal execs Tom Gabbard and Douglas Young have been importing more productions for two or three days: "Catch Me If You Can" will pop into the Belk June 7-9, the week after "War Horse" has set everybody abuzz and earned reams of publicity.

This means two things. First, we have more chances to see national tours of shows that didn't get quite as much attention during their time on Broadway, shows that are often more interesting than the big names that come through regularly. I could have done without "Les Miserables" this winter, though I was happy to see it again, but I wouldn't want to miss a "Fela!" or an "Idiot."

Second, theatergoers have to be vigilant. The Observer ran a CLT cover story on "Fela!" last Friday and a review on the second (and last) day of the show, and we splashed those stories online with colorful art. But we won't always be able to give a production that much attention. The days are gone when people could gradually accumulate friends' input about worthwhile shows and make decisions at leisure.

After "Monty Python's Spamalot" slipped back into town last February for a three-night run, a friend who missed it said, "You blink, and a show has come and gone." He's right. So if you want to stay on top of Broadway-style theater, you can't blink.