Sometimes it’s easy when you’re a critic to give advice. Trouble is, critics don’t have to make day-to-day decisions in the trenches.
Early in the season, I wrote a column bemoaning the tired show selections that some of our local playhouses have been making. It feels as if we get the same 100 shows over and over, despite there being many a good product this town has never seen. Sure, everyone wants a formula hit, but don’t playhouses feel at least a twinge of responsibility in bettering the local performing arts scene?
One of the theaters I took to task was Signature Productions. The group presented two forever-and-ever favorites, Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner” and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
I’ve been meaning to share a helpful reply I received from Signature’s artistic director, Leslie Fotheringham.
“I completely understand your question, why are we doing two shows that have been ‘done to death locally’? If we had our wish, we would only do shows that were more challenging. Here is our dilemma. We loved doing (Stephen Sondheim’s highly regarded) ‘Into the Woods,’ but that show, in conjunction with our last three, did not do well at the box office because they were not shows our regular audience wanted to see. We thought ‘Into the Woods’ would be, but looking at our bank account tells us it wasn’t. So, if we want to survive, we need to do some shows that will bring our audience back. Then, we can do shows that are more challenging.
“Why (did) we do ‘The Foreigner’? Because we had purchased the set already and were paying storage on it, so we needed to do the show or get rid of the set. We can’t afford to throw money away, so we (did) the show. … We’re counting on (“Joseph”) to build up our bank and put us back in a good place, giving us more flexibility in choosing shows. Keeping a community theater company going is very expensive and our audience is what feeds us.”
Fair enough. And it turns out, according to Fotheringham, their production of “Joseph” brought in the big bucks.
It’s worth being reminded that there are practical decisions directors like Fotheringham are forced to make that go beyond “art.” But I suppose it’s probably not healthy for critics to show too often how sympathetic they really are.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.