I was sorry to read yesterday that the Reprise! theater company is closing up shop in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I was even more sorry that I wasn't surprised.
Reprise! was the Los Angeles counterpart to the very successful Encore! series in New York, where barebones productions of little-seen classic musicals are performed. It never caught on in Los Angeles.
One big problem, I suspect, is that Los Angeles not only isn't the theater town that New York is...it's not particularly a theater town. Also, their ticket prices became wildly expensive for barebones productions with almost no sets and scenery and minimal costumes. Maybe the prices were justified, but they still were pretty high. But mainly, I thought the choice of shows was awful. I had been so uninterested that I hadn't gone in years.
Part of that is a Catch-22. Do you do the deserving, but lesser-known shows that -- being lesser-known -- might have a harder time attracting an audience? Or do you do the recognizable titles that are so well-known that audiences have tended to see them enough that there's nothing special. The last production that Reprise! did, for example, was that "little-known" musical, Cabaret. (In fairness, a lot of people may not have seen the stage show ever, or at least for a long while. But its revival had just been running for years on Broadway. And what with the huge success of the movie, it was not remotely a little-known classic.)
It's a tough decision. In a non-theater town like Los Angeles, you probably need the better-known titles. But that becomes so uninteresting, and not much different than any community theater or school. Yes, you get better-known actors -- but a) they weren't getting Big Names, b) they wouldn't know who'd be in the show until too late to really promote them, and c) you're charging a whole lot more than community theater and schools, many of which often offer pretty good productions.
Me, I'd have opted for the lesser-known classics. Yes, that's easy for me to say, not being in charge of the money. But clearly the other way didn't work. And at least, then you're doing something unique. What it takes is a greater effort to promote it. But at least you have something to promote.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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