Once again, the Baltimore theatre scene was a thriving one in 2007. As such, it made the news a lot this past year – some for the good (a new theatre company, an established theatre company does remarkable community service), some for the bad (state arts funding is at risk, local theatre coverage shrinks). No matter what, it sure has been an interesting year in front of and behind the footlights.
Here are the top 10 news stories in 2007:
10. Hairspray: The Movie
The musical is still a smash on Broadway, and Baltimore looks to continue to make tongues wag in New York when Cry Baby opens in 2008. But the film version of Hairspray is both a blessing and a curse. No matter what you think of the film, Baltimore ultimately comes out smelling like a rose. A veritable valentine to Baltimore, all of the quirkiness and style we are known for comes through. It helps that John Waters and his original Tracy, Ricki Lake, make cameo appearances. And it is sweet that John Travolta at least tried to do a "hon" accent. And the barrel of film award nominations, plus a very healthy take at the box office make it a hit all over again. The bad part, really, is that once again, Baltimore shot itself in the foot. Instead of making some monetary concessions and building a big soundstage (useable for future projects, and certainly more than the 8 whole times a year M&T Stadium sees a Ravens game), the powers that be again failed to think long term, and Toronto subbed for Charm City. Will we ever learn?
- Menopause: The Musical
A hit nationwide, this musical romp for "ladies of a certain age", was a much more successful attempt at giving Baltimore sit-down shows like D.C. (Shear Madness, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change). Gone is memory of The Awesome 80's Prom, a flopola by any standard. This little show kept at it for months, bringing hot flashes and horny 50-somethings a giggle or two at the M&T Pavilion. Hey, if you can't book enough wedding receptions and proms, why not use the space creatively? (These people need to give ideas to the film people in #10). I believe, though I could be wrong, that Menopause: The Musical is now the longest-running show ever in Baltimore, dethroning The Lion King.
- The Hippodrome is For Sale
Early this year, LiveNation announced that it was easing out of the theatre business, and was putting up several theatres for sale across the country. More recently, a theatre in Chicago, part of that announcement, was purchased, along with its BroadwayAcrossAmerica franchise. We'll see what happens here.
- CENTERSTAGE's Managing Director Steps Down
In mid-October, CENTERSTAGE made headlines when its Managing Director, Michael Ross, announced that he'd be stepping down, effective June 1, 2008. His six year time in the position was particularly successful, with huge gains in corporate support. And his expansion of CS's education program now sees that 2,000 Baltimore City Public School students get to see free matinees, INCLUDING bus transportation. And he is no stranger to little theatres, often attending shows, and offering equipment assistance to them. He is a friend of Baltimore theatre by any measure.
- State Arts Funding in Jeopardy
Facing a budget deficit, newly-elected Governor O'Malley announced the possibility of making up the money by cutting funding to the arts. It shouldn't really have been a surprise; whenever there is a budget crunch, the arts are the first in line at the guillotine. To the arts community's credit, a huge grass roots effort was put out there almost immediately, and responsibly. Instead of angry letters and rhetoric, a calm, more likely to be noticed campaign was launched to make legislators aware of the large economic impact such a cut would make, reaching far beyond the theatres and galleries themselves. With the raise in sales tax, who knows where this stands, but I'd bet this won't be the last time we hear about this.
- The Baltimore Sun Shifts Theatre Coverage
As if rallying the troops to fight budget cuts wasn't enough, an abrupt change in policy toward community theatre by Charm City's largest newspaper set off plenty of fireworks. Once things got calm, cooler heads prevailed again, letting the paper and the community served know just how classy the Baltimore theatre community is. The Sun will no longer review community theatre productions, leaving many smaller theatres to wonder where they'd get their biggest press from now. Fortunately, BroadwayWorld, and other media outlets are filling in the gap (tell your Sun-reading friends we are here!) Is it a carrot they are dangling with their online blog? Theatre and other arts critics have a venue where they can give their two-cents worth without taking up space on the printed page. But entries are only hit or miss – sometimes days go by with nothing new in any area of arts coverage – and the blog site is hard to navigate to.
James was first bitten by the theatre bug at the tender young age of 11, when, at the last minute, he was called upon to replace a classmate who, 42nd STREET-like, broke his leg, in a play, of all things, about the skeletal system! It was a trip to New York with his high school drama teacher to see Angela Lansbury in MAME that sealed his fate. As an actor, favorite roles include Sheridan Whiteside in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, Potiphar in JOSEPH..., Col. Pickering in MY FAIR LADY, and Sancho Panza?s ass in MAN OF LA MANCHA. After spending a summer feeling very conflicted playing both an apostle AND a high priest in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, James' theatre career took a turn toward direction and design, including such varied productions as THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, LOST IN YONKERS, GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER and GRAND HOTEL, SIDE SHOW, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD and SWEENEY TODD. James holds a Bachelor's degree in English from Towson University, with additional course work in journalism, dramaturgy, scenic design and stage direction. He is living proof that you can be a devout Sondheim fan AND love MAMMA MIA! |