Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In praise of the Pre-Broadway preview

Billy Porter (left) and Stark Sands star as Lola and Charlie
in the new musical "Kinky Boots" Photo by Gavin Bond
No, this is not a review of "Kinky Boots," the new Broadway musical featuring a book by Tony award-winning playwright Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by iconic music legend Cyndi Lauper and Tony award-winning choreographer\director Jerry Mitchell.

"Kinky Boots" creative (from left) Jerry Mitchell, Harvey Fierstein
and Cyndi Lauper. Photo by Gavin Bond
Though I attended last night's preview performance in Chicago (the first public performance save for a couple of workshops and a producer's preview last Sunday night), you'll need to come back to Broadway World and on Oct. 18 to read my review. It wouldn't be fair to review a show before Oct. 17, the date when the show's producers and creators are ready to release it to the world.

So, why did I attend? In my book, the first preview performance of a Broadway-bound musical is like gay Christmas. There's an excitement, an energy and much anticipation. Sure, you've had holidays were you've been disappointed, but it's still Christmas and who doesn't get excited around holidays?

Of course, there are more than a few Scrooges running around town. Some of them even writing blogs or newspaper columns urging you to skip the holiday until the show runners get any possible kinks worked out of their "Kinky Boots."

To the scrooges of the world, I say: Bah! Humbug! I have seen everything from good previews to awful (cough, cough, "Spider-Man" turn off your lights). When shows are good, you're in on the ground floor. And when they're bad, you've got a front row seat to the train wreck.

But it goes beyond that. Previews give you a chance to watch art in process. Anyone can enter a building, for instance, and say "they built it, by gosh!" How many of us getting to see it being built brick by brick, though?

The naysayers will quip "but who would want to pay for the privilege?" Well, me for one. I've learned more about acting, directing, producing, playwriting and dancing from watching previews than I have from attending theater or by reading theater columns and reviews.

Had I not attended a preview performance of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," I would have missed this, for instance:

Granted, this was a revival, but it had enough new material that there was still a risk (Kristin Chenoweth's star-turn role of Sally Brown was not in the original). As I write this, I realize that "Kinky Boots" director Jerry Mitchell was coincidentally the choreographer for this.

"The Addams Family" is another case in point. Seen in Chicago previews, the opening number was called "Clandango." There are numerous YouTube clips of the song, but I won't link to them here as none of them were captured legally. Catching the show on its Broadway run or subsequent tour, the opening number was "When You're an Addams."

Without having seen the preview, you wouldn't have any context to contemplate why one song works and the other doesn't or even the process itself. To return to my building analogy, it's admiring the building, without respecting the framing and foundation.

What's more, when you attend previews, you will likely hear songs that --not counting the various "Unsung Broadway" and "Lost In Boston" recordings-- you're unlikely to ever hear again. Unless the composer recycles the material, of course. Even then, if you don't attend previews, you'll never know when the composer has pulled something out of his or her trunk (and trust me, they all do it; Broadway composers were into recycling long before being Green came into fashion).

With previews, you're part of the process. At the opening preview of "Kinky Boots," the entire creative team was in attendance and you can bet the cast is getting a handful of notes today which were gleamed from audience reactions from last night's performance.

So, heels up, I say. Recognize the opportunity that a "Kinky Boots" preview is affording you!

"Kinky Boots" is in previews through Oct. 16 at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe. Tickets, $33-$100. The show officially opens Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 4. It will open on Broadway Spring 2013.

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