The Front Page
One of the tangible tidbits I picked up in grad school was: when we put on a show, we need to have a good reason for doing it.
Why share this story right here, right now? Why share it with this audience?
Why, why, WHY was also the word running through my mind while watching Broadway's The Front Page
(free tickets courtesy of my cousin Rebecca which was very nice).
The curtain lifts on a scene of about a thousand men (or nine, same diff) talking all at once -> a rocket fueled by testosterone. This pandemonium is only broken by the occasional entrance of a NEW man (often a celebrity), with the obligatory pause for applause. This is some vintage sausage party, circa 1928, to be exact.
The first woman that arrives is the old cleaning lady, who is picked on, flirted with, and eventually carried off-stage. The second woman is a sex-worker. She is understandably upset because her boyfriend is about to be hung, but because she is expressing emotion, she is ridiculed, and when she leaves the stage, one of the thousand newspaper men says, "what a nervy bitch." Luckily, this line resulted in only one uncomfortable guffaw from the tired and confused audience.
There is also a comedic ingenue figure, and her old mother, who later in the play is taken away to possibly be murdered? (This is a comedy btw). No one really cares, but in the end she is all right. The "nervy bitch" DOES end up jumping from the window in front of our eyes...but other than a barely heard "I think she's still breathing..." - the only line from newsman #7 - as the men rush offstage, we never learn her ultimate fate.
PLUS, the RACISM.
Plus, the show is all over the place dramaturgically and tonally. If a new playwright were to submit this to festivals and conferences today, they wouldn't have a chance.
So I guess it was produced because, with all the male characters, this was a nice vehicle for giving some old white men movie stars a job. There certainly isn't enough opportunity for them!
And/or, the producers knew that a list of big names, topped with Nathan Lane and John Slattery, would bring in the tourists, and the money. The whole celebrity on Broadway phenomenon is great on one hand, because it draws new audiences to experience live performance, and this is important for the sustainability of the art form. However, next time, can someone also ask the higher moral questions? Even though this old play has great roles for stars, is the sexist, racist, dusty, and antiquated content worth it? Is this something we want to put out into the world? I wonder, with all the plays that have been written, and all the plays that are being written by astonishing playwrights of color, playwrights of different genders, AT THIS MOMENT...that the producers couldn't have found a better vehicle, a better way to lull the tourists in?
Did this show change us for the better, in the here and now? I don't think so. And this should always be theater's super objective.