Manhattan’s Oldest Live Act Still Delivers
Saturday I was fortunate to catch the season finale of a Manhattan staple.
The premise of this three act live production is unlike any featured on Broadway. It’s one of the six oldest touring groups in the nation. The story is unscripted. The cast mostly regular, but features some turnover. One interesting concept is that the set hasn’t been modified more than a few modernizing tweaks in its 45 year existence. Yet the director is able to keep the experience fresh and exciting each raise of the curtain.
The unique intricacies of this show don’t end there.
Despite the regular cast, mostly unchanging sets and wardrobe, the producers are tasked with filling more seats than any other live act in Manhattan. How do they do it? They have thousands of regular patrons that not only spend hundreds on branded merchandise but can be counted on to attend each and every showing.
CAST: The cast this Saturday is poised to deliver a finely tuned effort to delight their most loyal enthusiasts.
On this day, one of the newest players is intent on making a few more fans. In scenes that are the fulcrum of the production, his delivery is precise and pure. Simultaneously, he galvanizes in perfect harmony yet shines among his peers. This true talent has proven that he is ready for the big time.
It’s cliché by now, but it would be careless to omit mention of the production’s star. Our protagonist is supplemented in key moments by the rookie’s sterling effort, but as has been the case for the last seven years, only one player can carry this production at the level demanded by the New York faithful. Despite the Sasquatchian expectations in this town, the patrons began chanting the hero on 34th Street’s name toward the end of the performance in unison as if they were reading sheet music and obeying the conductor.
DIRECTOR: The director of this production has one of the most daunting tasks in the Big Apple. The regular patrons demand a consistently motivated effort and are relentlessly unforgiving of even the slightest mistakes. Such pressure has made him a controversial figure off-stage, but he is ultimately measured only by the results under the lights.
VENUE: The designers should be praised for making the largest indoor venue in New York feel like an intimate living room, allowing the entire family to gather around to watch its favorite sons represent their domain. There have been updates at infrequent intervals to enhance comfort without detracting from the visceral feel. The set itself is minimalist; all peripherals removed to prevent distractions from the drama.
WARDROBE: Like the venue, the wardrobe has been organically updated while maintaining aesthetic tradition. Only in comparing previous iterations side by side can one be truly convinced this is not the garment of the original cast of players.
STORY: As stated earlier, the show is unscripted, so the audience is never sure what is in store for their beloved cast. On occasion, the plot doesn’t follow the traditional happy-ending Broadway model, but in order to keep the loyalists guessing, this is a necessity. Some of the nights feature an unexpected twist, a hated goat, or an unlikely hero.
But on this day, it is fitting that the warm-fuzzies are elicited from the first act until final curtain. This is an appreciative gesture to the audience for their year-long dedication, and the desired result is achieved. There’s no shortage of exuberance during the performance or as the enthusiasts exit the venue. Onlookers may suspect the patrons have been asked to continue the performance onto the streets, as though the producers are experimenting with the new trend of interactive theater.
The fundamental principles would seem to handicap the success of this live production: no script, traditional wardrobe, and 17,000 seats to fill in a city with the more options than any other. If that weren’t enough, there is an opposing cast whose sole objective is to deter them from pleasing the near 20,000 paying customers in attendance.
If you’re not yet convinced, you’ll have to attend yourself to see that New York’s best live theater is performed on the ice in Madison Square Garden.
Show runs from October (usually) until early summer.