Nancy Anderson will one day rank among the Bernadettes, the Patties, and the Alices; recently stealing shows like last year's Actor's Fund reading of The Valley of the Dolls, and of course The York Theatre Company's production of Yank, for which she will be returning to Broadway this fall. It delights me to have caught her in, what may go down as, a delightfully obscure starring performance in Paper Mill Playhouse's Peter Pan, which ended its season last Sunday the 27th. Yes, Nancy played the green boy himself, tights, wires, and chopped hair too. Let me tell you, the house was packed, and not a single person there had a clue who Nancy Anderson was. Nonetheless, it's remarkable how Paper Mill Playhouse had almost shut down due to Bankruptcy nearly two seasons ago, and you'd never know by looking now... or can you?
Posted by Broadway Doctor Wednesday, June 30, 2010
What's wrong with Paper Mill Playhouse?
1) It's in New Jersey. Further than Newark, you actually have to go to the heartland of New Jersey; long past the toxic waste dumps, and slightly before you start to hear lazy banjo music. The town is Millburn, with a modest 20,000 inhabitants. The smartest of whom (those who might attend theatre) are likely to take the train 45 minutes to see New York theatre anyways.
2) It has to compete with Broadway. Not only in proximity, but for talent, and for staging rights. No New York actors are going to want to move out to Millburn for several months, to act in a show that no New Yorkers are going to see. Also, with so many revivals on Broadway, it's hard for Paper Mill to snag the rights to put on the best of them, mostly secondhand, Broadway hand-me-downs. There was a time when Paper Mill could host original works, plays, world premieres, and productions that became Broadway transfers. Now it has to compete with Broadway for it's subscriber base.
3) A dwindling subscriber base. The economy is rough, and people can't afford theatre, or theatre subscriptions, and smaller independent theatre companies can't acquire as many grants. If families in New Jersey are going to see one show a year, they'll make the trip to Broadway. To compensate, Paper Mill has to fight for their subscribers by putting on commercially successful, and well known pieces, like Peter Pan, and cut out original works, and plays. Just look at next Year's season which includes: Hairspray, Les Miserables, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum, and Curtains. Seriously?...Curtains!? Times are hard if they can't get a bigger name/newer show than Curtains. But you see how name recognition wins overall? One remarkable part of my excursion to Paper Mill Playhouse was filling out a friendly questionnaire. The questionnaire was for potential subscribers, and only asked one objective... " Please Rank these shows by how much you'd like to see them." The list that followed were well-known, recycled, and almost exclusively musical productions.
The productions at Paper Mill Playhouse themselves are always of great quality. In the past many Oscar and Tony winning performers have graced the stage with honor and pride. Many great performers have gotten their start at Paper Mill, and you can see so many pictures of them in their lobby. It's almost as if to say, "Remember, how cool we used to be?"
One comforting thought should be that though times may get hard for Theatre Companies, times get even harder for actors; Especially in New York. ...So then you get to see great performers like Nancy Anderson play pre-pubescent magic flying fairy boys, to a room full of kids.