Some shows are better, bigger (Guest Post)

Today’s post is written by guest blogger, Rebecca Coleman.  To view Musicals in Vancouver’s response, check out our guest post at the Art of the Business blog

I love independent theatre. It’s where I live, it’s where my heart is, and it’s where I make my living.

But I also love theatre in general, and, while I tend to hang out in the indie scene, I’ll go see pretty much anything going.

A few months back, I went to see Les Misérables at The Arts Club, and a couple of weeks ago, Rent at Presentation House.

First, you have to understand that these two musicals hold significant sentimental value for me. Les Miz was my favorite musical for a long, long time, and it was only replaced in my heart when Rent came along. I knew all the words in Les Miz, and used to daydream about being Éponine, even learning “On My Own” for auditions. I saw a touring version of it, about 10 years ago at the Q.E., and was blown away by the spectacle.

Then, in 1996, while watching the Tonys, I saw the original Broadway cast of Rent singing “Seasons of Love” and “La Vie Bohème,” and I was instantly smitten. I’ve now seen Rent four times, including once at the Nederlander Theatre in New York, where it ran for 12 years.

The Nederlander Theatre in New York City

The Nederlander Theatre in NYC.

So, I’m pretty familiar with both of those shows. So, seeing them done in a smaller theatre, on a smaller scale, was a very interesting experience.

And I felt like they were missing something. Don’t get me wrong—both productions were excellent—big hearted, beautifully sung, and with strong production values. But because of money and size of venue, some of the big special effects were cut.

It makes a huge visual impact to see the barricade in Les Mis slowly rotating into view, strewn with dead bodies. The Arts Club production did have a barricade, and it did move, but with more of a pulling-out-a-drawer motion. The impression it made was not as strong. Similarly, Javert’s suicide was not as impactful (sorry about that choice of words).

I had a similar experience seeing Rent. I missed Mimi howling “Out Tonight” as she straddles both staircase railings and slides down, and Joanne’s first arrival on a motorcycle.

Maybe it’s just my sentimentality speaking, but maybe some things are better, bigger.

Now, anyone know of a production of Miss Saigon happening? I got a hankering to see a helicopter land on stage…

Rebecca Coleman is a freelance theatre publicist here in Vancouver. Her roster includes Touchstone Theatre, Ruby Slippers, Radix, Leaky Heaven Circus, Presentation House, Capilano University’s Theatre Department, and Itsazoo. In addition, she does social media training, and has published an e-book on the topic titled Getting Started with Social Networking for Artists and Arts Organizations. Her blog is The Art of the Business.

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca Coleman

6 responses to “Some shows are better, bigger (Guest Post)

  1. Pingback: Shows I Saw: August @ Lois Backstage

  2. I’m bias.

    I could not agree with you less though Rebecca (and Lois, in your blog.)

    To compare Rent with Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera is ludicrous.

    First of all, I have to correct something in your entry. I’m assuming you mean Maureen and Joanne’s entrance on a motorcycle. This *never* happens in the stage show. It’s actually done very similar to how we did it – with a blackout, a light on a stand and a sound effect. Yes – Maureen enters on a motorcycle in the movie, but it does not happen in the stage show. I get the Les Miserables quibbles. I saw the show, and I actually found it MORE interesting than productions I have seen in the past. Yes, there was no revolve, and yes the death scene with Javert was perhaps not as strong as it could’ve been – but I think the story was far easier to follow than I have seen it before.

    In regards to “bigger is better,” I have to disagree too. I have seen high school productions, touring shows, local regional theatre and shows in New York. I have paid between $8 and $125 for tickets. When I went to New York I went to see the mediocre Mary Poppins because I wanted spectacle. I saw The Lion King in Seattle because I wanted spectacle. Rent is not a show I go to because of spectacle, it’s a show I attend for the heart, for the intimacy, for the story – not for a chandilier falling.

    As I said I’m bias – but what I heard from audiences night after night after night who’ve seen the show all over North America (including NYC) is that they feel that a smaller, intimate setting is where a show like Rent was ALWAYS supposed to play. And I must agree.

    However, I am looking forward to other people chiming in. 🙂 Thanks for starting the debate Rebecca.

  3. Well Rebecca I’m afraid for the most part I’m going to have to agree with Ryan.

    Rent (not my favorite musical but one with several excellent songs) probably does work better in a smaller venue but with big voices (and a Mimi who can kick the Sh** out of “Out Tonight”- and I think a staircase is not a requirement but simply one possible staging option).

    I’m not a fan of the McMusical that are staged/sung the same everywhere. That’s not art, it’s uninteresting (it’s theatre after all and not TV reruns) and no fun for the actors/designers involved.

    “Miss Saigon” (have you seen it?) is mostly a show built around the Helicopter landing. This was frankly one of the biggest disappointments I ever experienced in the theatre (in London, no less), I simply didn’t believe it.
    It wasn’t the nightmarish fantasy of “Les Miz” barricades, instead it was an misguided attempt to replicate the sort of reality that musical are usually built to avoid . (And when I agreed to go again with a friend in Toronto, and the Helicopter wasn’t used that night due to some sort of safety problem- the staged mayhem that replaced it was far more exciting.)

    “Phantom…” again was far more spectacle than substance. It worked for what it was worth.

    “Wicked” works well big – but I’d be happy to help design a smaller scale version some day. With inventive staging it is strong enough a show to work on a much smaller scale.

    Les Miz “worked” here recently simply because a strong show with great voices needs very little to be enjoyable.
    And “Rent” worked because the cast had so much energy and enthusiasm along with their talent.

    But these are all (fairly big,) large cast shows. There a lots of smaller shows with huge impact.
    Try “Jacques Brell is alive…”, “Billy Bishop…” (now there’s a great show), Songs for a New World” (the best musical I’ve seen in ages – ok yes it is a “Song Cycle”), “Closer than Ever”, etc.

    Or shows that sound big, but need not be staged in huge “Broadway” style spectacle… “Parade”, Lesley Arden’s “Martin Guerre…” (far, far superior to Boubil and Shonberg’s), “Chicago”, “Cabaret”… and of course many, many Sondheim shows that get huge productions, medium ones, and small ones, and if the cast is good and the vision strong, almost always please the crowds.

    So if you want big… may I suggest the latest summer Movie blockbuster (and there are several big film adaptations of musicals on the way), and save your pennies to go to Broadway or London where they at least have theatres big enough to create spectacles.

  4. Pingback: Guest post: Matthew DiMera responds to “Is bigger, better?” « The Art of the Business

  5. Pingback: Guest post: Matthew DiMera responds to "Is bigger, better?"

  6. Great info. Lucky me I found your website by chance (stumbleupon). I have book marked it for later!

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