A few weeks ago, Andy and I had the privilege of seeing a live taping of This American Life during Radio Love Fest at BAM.
First off, if you like This American Life you can download a video of the taping HERE for $5, and it is well worth the money. Secondly, this evening of radio stories turned live theater was one of the most fulfilling pieces of theater I have ever seen. I walked out of the opera house saying, “If that is what live theater has the potential of being, I would go all the time.” Aside from the wonderful performances, the story telling was solid across the board, and that made the entire production fun and compelling.
There was a piece entitled 21 Chump Street, which was a Broadway musical style piece they presented with Broadway actors, music written by and co-staring Lin-Manuel Miranda. The story, taken verbatim from an interview, dealt with a Florida high school student who fell in love with an undercover cop during a sting to catch high school drug dealers. The story is funny, heartbreaking, and real, which provided perfect fodder for this mini-musical.
The crowd that evening was not a Broadway fan club, and they LOVED this piece. It dealt with the serious issue of minorities, drugs, and the law (in Florida to-boot). With hip-hop style music and dancing, the actors won the crowd over and engrossed the opera house.
21 Chump Street was proof that you can present a strong story, utilizing a diverse cast with modern music, and people of all backgrounds will enjoy it. I think we need to see more diverse modern stories on Broadway, and in theater in general. Broadway is in the business of making money where the average ticket price for Broadway just reached $100 for the first time. But, I think the art of theater is at a point where it needs to modernize and attract a diverse crowd of young people to survive, and not just young people who can pay the premium prices of $350 plus per ticket. The live taping of This American Life proved that maybe, just maybe, all of those things can be achieved.
Thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda and This American Life, for proving that the mix of powerful diverse storytelling and Broadway Musicals can both entertain, educate, and change lives.
I hope to see more work like this in the near future.