“The narrative of the American musical critiques the very capitalism that it relies on to make a profit to survive. Therefore, this is a hypocritical industry that smugly challenges the power that comes with success, while enjoying the financial rewards and fame associated with Broadway”
Broadway is a cut-throat capitalist enterprise. The art form of the Broadway musical is driven by commercial success. If you don’t bring in the money, you disappear. The majority of productions flop, with only a limited number of productions enjoying a ‘success’ and the profits that come with this notion. According to Michael Paulson in his New York Times article ‘New Yorkers Making Up Bigger Portion of Broadway Audience’, over the last 12 months, 81 productions played at some point during the season with half of all the box-office revenue going to just 10 of those shows.
Musicals evolved to capture every idiom of American expression in style, spirit and format, moving away from the tedious European institution of the ‘theatre’. American Musicals provided a form of escapism and entertainment for a wider demographic. However, the objective of the American musical has changed, revealing a hypocritical industry. Tickets for the production of The Book of Mormon started at $99.00USD for seats in the mezzanine, at the show I attended the house was full, in fact, the same could be said for every ‘successful’ Broadway show I saw, regardless of time or day every seat was sold. At this price, Broadway excludes an audience it once relied on for success. According to Paulson through audience demographics report, which is based on surveys distributed in theaters: The Broadway audience remains predominantly white (77 percent) and female (66 percent), as well as affluent (average annual household income of $194,940) and educated (80 percent of those over 25 were college graduates and 39 percent had a graduate degree).
It is interesting that Musicals such as The Book of Mormon explicitly critique the format of the musical and the capitalism it relies on. If you take away the libretto and evaluate The Book of Mormon from the perspective of its production, from lighting and staging to characterisation and song, it has all the typical elements of a traditional Broadway Musical. However, beneath the dazzle of the production, the musical appears to be milking for laughs the Mormon beliefs, however, it is essentially laying jabs into the stigma of Broadway. Through their song “Hasa Diga Eebowai” they satirise “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King and state supposedly “Africa is nothing like the Lion King”. Elder Price’s proud announcement of blind faith in “I believe” is a direct homage to “I Have Confidence” from The Sound Of Music. In ridiculing these classic American musicals they critique dumbing down of entertainment, the capitalist values of Broadway and its power and influence over the American cultural psyche. These are hypocritical values though, as just like every other powerhouse Musical on Broadway the curtains go up and audiences eyes turn to the stage of a sellout show. “South Park’s” Matt Stone and Trey Parker are selling a brand name that existed even before Broadway, critiquing the values which similarly supports them. As I sat in my seat and laughed and relished in the entertainment I forgot about the tickets, I forgot that Broadway was a business and I allowed myself to be taken on this journey.