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Ok. Everybody has been talking, (or at least people in the musical theatre community) about the john travolta incident. The Travolta Moment
Musical Theatre purists are appalled. “How could he not know her?” I could hear them gasp from Hell’s Kitchen to the Castro. My fellow friends of Dorothy were scandalized. Especially concerning the rumors surrounding The Travolta How could HE of all people destroy Elphaba like that?
Quick! Do you know who Idina Menzel is? No cheating, don’t google! I thought so. Do you know who Marissa Jaret Winoker is? How about Cherry Jones? Ever heard of Lachanze?
You are proving my theory that all John Travolta did was prove how insular and incestuous the theatre world has become. All of those women I named are Tony Award winners-the highest achievement in theatre, the Academy Award of the stage so to speak. The fact John Travolta had never even heard of Menzel to recognize her name says something. Ok yes, it says he needs glasses or new contacts, but it also says he wasn’t even vaguely familiar with her name.
There was a day when winning a Tony was like winning an Oscar. It was famous, made you so, and increased your sticker price on the entertainment market. It meant that you could demand more money. Mary Martin and Stephanie Mills were household names when they won their respective Tony Awards. Now we are lucky if our Tony winners can find work.
Boyd Gaines, (another Tony winner you don’t know) in the book, Making it on Broadway, Actors tales of Climbing to the Top said,
I had the expectation that it was kind of like an Oscar. I thought it would change how people think of me. I thought it would put me up a notch. I was largely unemployed for the two years that followed. I became more realistic
The Heidi Chronicles premiered on Broadway in 1989. That’s about when the tide had turned completely, and the Great White Way ugh…stopped commanding the attention it once had. Now shows must actually maim and dismember/kill actors to get attention on Broadway: SpiderclusterFu(K!!!
So what to make of all this? Maybe it is ok that John Travolta doesn’t know who the heck Idina Menzel is. If you believe theatre is a confection, that is only an extravagance for the rich and merely a trifle, a diversion if you will. Quite frankly that kind of theatre should go unknown in my opinion. Maybe theatre, (and by maybe I mean definitely) needs to dig deep and tell stories that reflect more than an elite social class? Tell stories that involve more of a wider scope of society? Sure Wicked is about outsiders, but other than that, Bway is still pretty aimed at old white folks. Bringing in more stories with consistent diversity is key. Maybe then little kids at home, would have also gasped when John Travolta tramped all over Idina and her name. What a lovely thing if they would have reacted as they would have if he had called Lady Gaga, Laseroff Gredeskieem.