THEATRE NOTEBOOK NY strike: sadness is deep
PRODUCER SONIA Friedman has talked exclusively to Notebook about the effects of the increasingly bitter stagehands’ strike on Broadway, which has seen picket lines replace queues outside New York’s theatres.
Taking Tom Stoppard’s acclaimed play Rock ’n’ Roll to the US, which like most productions on Broadway has had to close because of the dispute, Friedman is the only lead British producer currently in New York.
“My sadness is very deep, and I am utterly confused and bemused as to how they’ve allowed it to get to this point,” said Friedman.
Last week Notebook wondered if Mel Brooks’s latest musical Young Frankenstein was benefiting from the stagehands’ strike. Brooks’s show is one of just a handful of unaffected productions.
Even before it sold a ticket, YF had broken box office records with an indefensible monster top seat price of $450. Add to that the reviews, which ranged from the disappointed to the downright disparaging, and you would think that Brooks might have a flop on his hands worthy of Max Bialystock in The Producers.
But now that the show is one of only a few offerings available to punters in New York, the question has been answered with a report that estimates YF has grossed a healthy $1.7 million. Which is pretty amazing when you consider what the New York Times said: “No, it is not nearly as good as The Producers… No, it’s not as much fun as the 1974 Mel Brooks movie, also called Young Frankenstein… No, it does not provide $450 worth of pleasure.”
Associated Press offered the begrudging compliment “a scattered, fitfully entertaining show”; USA Today said, “too many songs are dull… The songwriting skill Brooks showed in The Producers is absent here”, and Newsday carped, “Something’s wrong in Transylvania when the only thing in stitches is the creature’s face.”
Compare these reviews to Rock ’n’ Roll which Friedman took to the West End before New York. “Possibly Stoppard’s finest play,” said the New York Times; the New York Post called it “funny and enthralling”; “Exhilarating, touching, and remarkable,” gushed the Washington Post.
Meanwhile the strike goes on with just eight shows running out of 35, and with Young Frankenstein raking it in, while Rock ’n’ Roll, which stars Rufus Sewell as the Jewish, Czech dissident Jan, kicks its heels in frustration.
“I’m in touch with Tom Stoppard every day,” says Friedman, who is also planning to take both Boeing, Boeing! and The Seagull starring Kristin Scott Thomas to Broadway. “He is as distressed as any author would be. He doesn’t have a particular point of view [about the strike], just, like me, absolutely shocked we are in this place.”
When asked how long and Rock ’n’ Roll could last in this state of limbo, Friedman almost shuddered at the question.
“There’s nothing in my DNA that will even go there. It’s not even in my realm of possibility that Rock ’n’ Roll won’t come back. Everything I do is making sure that my show is going to be there when this is over. I’m personally very upset and absolutely devastated for the actors affected by this. I just want this solved.”
Friedman: “I’m devastated”