An Interesting but Worriesome Time to be Retired
by Elyse Sommer
Retiring from a super-busy career you love is not easy.
Fortunately, everything I and my many good friends and colleagues have written about since 1996 is still available to read via the archives and special Google search box links at the right side of Curtainup's now frozen main page (www.curtainup.com).
My interest in and love of the theater is not retired, though. Given the entertainment world's new normal, with its blend of all storytelling formats, my blogpost updates at https://curtainupnewlinks.blogspot.com/ cover the entire cultural spectrum.
The way various screening platforms have given writers, actors and directors a chance to create content strikes me as a new golden era reminiscent of the golden age of dramas and musicals during the 1940s and '50s.
Unfortunately, the unrelentingly depressing news cycle has put a kibosh on that pleasure and has had me spend most of my time looking for escape fare to read and watch. As it turned out, lots of what I found not only diverted but also did what any well done cultural content does: enliven, enrich and lead the viewer to other worthwhile reading or watching experiences.
My search began with some golden oldie movies. The work of Nora Ephron and John Patrick Shanley proved to be as good, if not better than ever. If Ephron were alive, she would surely be writing and directing a sequel to You've Got Mail. Instead of the bittersweet romance between a mega bookstore owner and a small neighborhood bookseller, she'd be dealing with the Amazon effect. Even the great Ephron might find it hard to turn that into a romance.
Rewatching Screenwriter Shanley's Moonstruck refreshed my memory of Actor John Mahoney before his later and more famous role in the Frasier sitcom. That led me to revisiting the series and its superb cast and genuinely witty dialogue. David Hyde Pierce, the show's Dr. Niles Crane, is still doing great work on stage and screen. But Grammar, the titular Frasier Crane, did not recapture the original 's magic in his recently updated Frasier miniseries. Clearly, it does take trial and error to find really solid feel-good fare.
Naturally, it's satisfying to spend time with familiar and still impactful stories. But reassurance that fine new work is still being created is also needed. Hurrah! It is! I've already written about Ann Pachett's wonderful new novel in my recent blogspot feature https://curtainupnewlinks.blogspot.com/2023/08/thornton-wilders-our-town-gives-ann.html. Patchett is an awardwinning author. Lessons In Chemistry, another outstanding new novel by Bonnie Garmus, is a debut that has been adapted into a terrific streaming series.
Though Robyn Carr is certainly a successful writer, I haven't read a Harlequin romances since I was an agent for writers of that genre. That said, Sue Tenney's Virgin River series added a delightful guilty pleasure to my on-screen escape fare. The outstanding cast and Tenney's skillful adaptation had me hooked for all five seasons, with another one coming to Netflix.
For the many who want their entertainment away from home again, the good news is that Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters have plenty of shows on offer and created and performed by a more diverse talent pool than ever before.
Kimberly Akimbo, an intimate musical, had a trial run at the downtown Atlantic Theater. It actualy had another prior life as a non-musical play (My reviews of those versions are in the Curtainup archives). Another show with a prior history that did remarkably well with the critics was a hokey musical called Shucked.
But neither these or any other shows that have opened seem to have the legs to sttck around for years. That brings me to the not-so -good news: People have not been rushing back to the theater. Consequently, producers are struggling financially. With the cost of putting on a show going up rather than down, deeply discounting tickets to fill seats is good for savvy theatergoers but not the box office. Even Phantom of the Opera ended its seemingly forever run. So did the remarkably durable Here Lies Love in its way off the beaten path location.
A number of invaluable small theaters have closed, but many more are carrying on ... with shorter seasons and smaller casts and production values. Unsurprisingly, some of the big houses have brought back sure-fire hits with ticketselling stars, like The Music Man with Sutton Foster and Hugh Jackman. What's more, The Lion King and Wicked, which have been running for years, remain Broadway fixtures.
To conclude, it will take time for the "fabulous invalid" to be truly fabulous again. Since I've seen it recover from tough times again and again, I'm hopeful it will do so once more. Ditto, that our currently uncertain world too will find a way to deal with weather disasters, hate crimes and wrong-minded governance.