Right Show, Wrong Crowd

A spooky musical about a man trapped in a cave is too much for the Actors Playhouse audience

Yet there's one big problem with this show, and I will give it to you as an aphorism: Too much success can kill you. Actors Playhouse has long packed its houses by toadying to the lowest possible denominator in programming. AP has a strong base audience all right, but this audience's idea of sophisticated entertainment is 4 Guys Named José, a musical that might have been considered challenging a half-century ago. Year after year, Stein and Arisco have opted for lineups of mindless shows, many of which are staged as mere copies of their Broadway or movie predecessors. So now Floyd Collins, their greatest artistic success, is naturally a box office disaster.

The bill has come due for Actors Playhouse, which is faced with three hard choices. One, stop doing challenging shows like Floyd. This is an option that would be a disaster for the South Florida arts community. Few companies have the means that AP does, and if AP doesn't do this kind of material, it just won't get done here. Two, dump the present AP subscriber base and find a crowd more willing to confront challenging material. This is impractical and probably impossible. Look around, folks. How many forward-thinking people do you find clogging the roads of our culturally challenged peninsula?

Tally Sessions and Charles Rooney: A new high water mark
Tally Sessions and Charles Rooney: A new high water mark

Details

Presented by the Actors Playhouse through March 30. Call 305-444-9293.
Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables

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A third option seems best: Stein, Arisco and company have to slowly but persistently bring their core audience along toward an appreciation of more sophisticated programming. Right now, AP's season picking strategy is just a tradeoff: Stein gets the mindless crowd pleasers that bring in the bucks, and Arisco gets a treasured bone or two, like Floyd Collins. That's a political agreement, not an artistic strategy. You don't jump from The Sound of Music or mindless murder mysteries to Floyd Collins-- the leap is too far for the core audience. You're talking about a completely different set of expectations and aesthetics. AP needs to program more carefully. Try some accessible Sondheim -- A Little Night Music, then maybe Company, then Sweeney Todd. By the time AP audiences can hang with Pacific Overture, then maybe they can appreciate Floyd Collins. Without this kind of audience development, the artistic success of a Floyd Collins won't be able to argue, in the long run, with its evil twin, box-office disaster, and the head-wagging naysayers will simply use Floyd as an example of what not to do. If so, South Florida loses a tremendous opportunity to drag Actors Playhouse kicking and screaming toward what it should be -- the flagship theater company in this region.

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