No, it’s not about Darth Vader or Cookie Lyon, as you might think. EMPIRE, THE MUSICAL is about the Empire State Building’s construction and it’s a big, flashy, old-fashioned musical with a star-making turn. Stephanie Gibson (She was one of the Step-Sisters in the recent Broadway production of CINDERELLA) plays Frankie Peterson, a 1940’s style Girl Friday (although the show’s setting is 1929-1931) displaying sharp comedic timing, a great belt and excellent dancing. She easily wins over the audience and of course, the male lead, because after all, this is an old-fashioned musical.
EMPIRE has a stunning set that is a collaboration between David Gallo (Scenic/Co-Projection) and Brad Peterson (Co-Projection) that actually gives the impression of a building being erected. Book, Music & Lyrics are by Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull, who serve the music and lyrics well and hopefully the secondary characters will get some fleshing out before this show hits New York.
My biggest quibble is with Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s Choreography and Direction. There are more than a couple of moments when the emotions of the text did not ring true and it wasn’t the fault of the writing. Scenes and dance numbers need more shape and to build to an effective resolution. A lot of reality was lost as the excellent cast strained to keep up with the breakneck pace. I understand that the show was put together on a short rehearsal schedule, so maybe more time would help. Now playing at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.
I remember a time when Producers and the Attorney General of New York were all riled up about say, at the most, a dozen Broadway Box Office Treasurers selling twenty house seat tickets per performance to brokers for a financial kickback known as “Ice.” Well, Ticketmaster has built a glacier over Broadway and no one seems to care.
For example, most of the HAMILTON tickets sold by Ticketmaster are sold-out thru next October, but if you go on the Ticketmaster site, you will see consistently 1/3rd of the seats available for resale “from fan to fan” for exorbitant prices, 3 to 8 times the face value of the original tickets. This means that the majority of the money being made by this hit show is not going to help pay the cast, crew, creatives or investors, it is going to the “fans” or more precisely “e-brokers.” HAMILTON made $1,700,000 gross last week, but there was probably at least another $2,000,000 paid to “e-brokers” above the face value. This is not good business.
Right now, there is a limit of 14 tickets per person each week for ticket sales, but we all know there are ways around that. There needs to be a limit on the amount you can charge to resell a ticket. Or, for every dollar you make over the ticket price, 50 cents should go back to the show. I know, it would be difficult to regulate that income, but if you can’t regulate the sales, what option do we have?
It’s not only HAMILTON, that’s just the most blatant case. And it’s not only Ticketmaster, check out Stubhub or any of the other resale sites. It is SO DAMN HARD TO MAKE MONEY IN THE THEATER BUSINESS. PRODUCERS: DON’T BE SATISFIED WITH A HIT, DEMAND NEW STANDARDS FOR ACCEPTABLE RESALE PRACTICES. (Yes, I am yelling.)
The Troubadours (“Troubies“) are known for their comedic mash-ups of well-known stories with popular music and this one is loosely based on the 1970 Stop Motion Animated TV Special “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” that starred Fred Astaire as the Narrator and Keenan Wynn as The Winter Warlock. If you can imagine poop jokes and broad cartoon acting telling a racy (!) origin story of Kris Kringle interspersed with Motown classics that have slight lyric changes, then you are starting to get the idea of the wacky weirdness being offered in SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO MOTOWN.
I think their aim is to get you to revert to childhood and have a goofy good time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work on this show. It’s easy enough to watch, but there is more groaning than laughter or applause coming from the house. There is a lot of improvisation and cracking up on stage, certainly the performers are enjoying themselves. It’s a shame the audience is being left out of most of the fun.