What right have I?

July 20, 2018

Here’s one of musical theatre’s most groan-producing forced rhymes:

You are the light of the world
But if that light’s under a bushel
It’s lost something kind of crucial

(Some people quote the Bible; I quote musicals. Even when they’re purporting to be quoting the Bible.)

So, I’m about to give my internationally famous subjective musical theatre history in Los Angeles. (August 1-4, 2018) It’s the first time, in the eighteen-year-history of the History, that it’s been offered to the general public. (Register now at http://nmi.org/events/a-subjective-history-of-musical-theatre/ ) So, I really ought to say a few words about it but there’s a problem.

If I tell you, with proper honesty, about the reactions of those who’ve previously attended, it’s going to sound like bragging. And I don’t like to brag. But I really shouldn’t keep my light under a bushel. I see the rapt attention in everyone’s eyes. I engage the learners in a conversation about musicals and how they came to be – it’s imprecise to call them an audience. But, when it’s done, inevitably, every time I do it, a group will come up to me and say “Wow, that was amazingly entertaining. I learned so much.”

These were theatre students, accustomed to receiving a fabulous education – some had BFAs, MFAs, there may have been a PhD. Others made a choice to avoid college because they couldn’t picture themselves listening to lectures in a hall. Is what I do a lecture? I don’t think that’s a good word for it. I fill our time with jokes, with much back-and-forth; I run to the piano to sing illustrative songs. I even execute a move I saw in a Fosse show. And, at certain points, I make people cry. I tell the life story of a musical-writing hero of mine in such dramatic fashion, well, the last time I did this there was an audible gasp.

The talk sprung into being when I was given the floor at an acting school with a curriculum so packed, nobody had time for history. Some students knew the classics, but not the new. Others, the reverse. And then there were people who exclusively were into Sondheim shows. There were no grades, no tests, no consequence, really, for not apprehending what I put out there. Teachers, in traditional classrooms, have implicit sway: “Learn this, or get a bad grade <maniacal laugh>.” Take that away, you’ve got my kind of challenge! If I talked fast enough, if I suddenly broke out into song when nobody expected it, if good jokes came frequently enough, folks would eat it up. Learn. Understand.

And, thank God, it’s safely removed from traditional academia. The stories I tell needn’t be the gospel truth (or the Godspell truth, for that matter). No one was going to stop me if I injected my opinion. If I think a particular show is awful, I say so, and get to explain why. And make fun of it in such a way, you’ll laugh your head off.

Since it’s a dialogue, I suspect I’ll field some questions. What’s on many minds these days is the skittishness involved in the current revivals of a couple of Golden Era classics on Broadway. It would seem that producers are uncomfortable with presenting pre-feminism musicals to a post-feminist audience. Broadway, of course, is a business, and the supposition is they’ll sell more tickets to bowdlerized Rodgers & Hammerstein or a Lerner & Loewe with a reinterpreted ending than they would the pure unadulterated hits the world has loved for decades.

I’ve written before about the particularly ludicrous charge that Carousel somehow condones or romanticizes wife-beating. It rather explicitly does not. And since I once played the character uttering the line, I can quote you exactly what the Heavenly Friend says the moment long-dead Billy slaps the hand of his daughter:

Failure! You struck out blindly again. Is that the only way you know how to treat those you love? Failure!

This messenger from God is saying what Hammerstein wants us all to hear, that wife-beating or even daughter-slapping is never acceptable. And yet the text is radically altered to make it even more acceptable to today’s audience.

One property that Rodgers and Hammerstein felt couldn’t work as a musical was George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. In that fine play, a lower class woman stands up for herself, getting the best, in argument, of a tony Mayfair scholar. Lerner and Loewe created the longest-running musical, ever (beating Rodgers and Hammerstein’s record), My Fair Lady, by leaving Shaw’s arguments in, virtually intact. I think the best word for it is proto-feminist, since it pre-dates what we call the feminist movement by a few years. 62 years later, though, powers-that-be saw the need to tip the scales a little further in favor of the reconstituted flower peddler, who now marches out of the theatre in response to the final power play.

I’ve admired the work of the directors, Jack O’Brien (Carousel) and Bartlett Sher (My Fair Lady) in the past, but this seems a good definition of hubris. Rodgers and Hammerstein crafted what was named the twentieth century’s greatest musical. Lerner and Loewe crafted the longest-running show to open during the 1950s. Those writers are geniuses – you think you can do better?

Now, I’m not saying you have to love those shows. A Sondheim character sees My Fair Lady and says “I sort of enjoyed it.” But, please, have some sense of historical context. Carousel was written for a war-time audience, one that surely contained war brides and war widows. Rodgers and Hammerstein reassured wives of soldiers that they’d made the right choice, marrying those who served. Imagine if your husband died in World War Two and you get to watch a widow hearing her long-dead husband utter, “Know that I loved you.”

To appreciate this, though, you might have to have a sense of history. And those current producers don’t trust that ticket-buyers today have that. But one can always learn history. Which is why you’re going to attend my Subjective History of Musicals. You’ll learn; you’ll laugh; you’ll love musicals more.


Be my baby

December 13, 2017

Something is stirring
Shifting ground, it’s just begun
Edges are blurring all around
And yesterday is done


OK, we’ve all, as a nation, been thinking a lot about scenarios in which men attempt to get women to do something sexual. We hear about monstrous predators who wielded great power, in business or society, and used that power to have their way with the significantly less powerful. Such news revelations might (or might not) alter our personal definition of a code of conduct, of what behavior is acceptable during a lust-fed pursuit. But there’s only one question I know you’ve come here to see addressed:

What does this mean for musical comedy writing?

Frank Loesser’s randy duet, Baby It’s Cold Outside, will probably get a lot less airplay this year. I stand by what I said about the witty Oscar-winner two years ago. But contemporary disc jockeys, or whoever it is that programs what songs to play this Christmas, don’t want to remind listeners of the back and forth of a couple that may end up having sex.

Here’s the first song I thought of:

Wish You Were Here is about young single adults at a camp with individual cabins. I love how the score finds so many amusing ways to depict the way real and relatable people mix and mingle. It’s a snapshot of the dating game as it was played, mid-century; I value it as such.

Musicals, quite often, contain romance. Romance, quite often, contains lust. If we’re going to portray lovers in a realistic and recognizable way, sex is likely to be part of the picture. Musical-writers are lucky that there’s a tradition in musicals that a passionate love song is a way of communicating to the audience that sexy stuff has occurred. Think of Younger Than Springtime in South Pacific. Liat, who doesn’t speak English, certainly didn’t give Lieutenant Cable a peck and call it a kiss. (Nor look in his eyes through a lorgnette.) We get it. And it’s infinitely lovelier than any bed tussling in an R-rated movie.

Both Relax (by Harold Rome) and Baby It’s Cold Outside reflect an attitude that there’s something fun and funny about the ways a man might go about persuading a woman to do something naughty. I worry that contemporary sensibilities are stopping some from seeing what’s amusing in this. And what are you going to do, today, if you’re musicalizing a mating dance?

A key component I notice, that separates these songs from the victims of predators, is that the women have agency. There are times – I have it on very good authority – when girls just wanna have fun, in bed. It’s remarkable that these songs from so long ago celebrate the female who consciously says yes. I keep hearing the carping, today, of women who find Baby It’s Cold Outside “creepy.” Which makes me wonder if some song of seduction I’ve written might be considered creepy 65 years in the future. Remind me not to be around for that.

There’s a marvelous number, told from the girl’s point of view, by two old acquaintances of mine, Dennis Markell and Douglas Bernstein, called Joshua Noveck. The adolescent fumbling it describes reminds me of the time I was 15 and asked a girl over to rehearse a kiss for a drama class. But, for those who don’t have a memory of doing anything remotely like that, there is the principle accusation against Al Franken, whose alleged middle-aged minor celebrity insistence on rehearsing a kiss has cost him his job in the Senate. So, the same scenario can be seen through different prisms. When high schoolers practice a kiss for a play, that’s acceptable, innocent. When adult performers on a USO tour do the same, it’s considered conduct unbecoming of a U.S. Senator. And when you mix the two, when an adult government attorney dates high school girls … need I say Moore? Of Alabama? (Oh, don’t ask why.)

A friend of mine was asked what it’s like to be a man in this new age of #MeToo awareness, and, just a few weeks later, was quoted in a major men’s magazine. He’s now embarrassed by what he said, as the ground seemed to have shifted during those few weeks. So, I’m reticent to say much more today, because this all could look insensitive a few weeks from now.

I don’t understand men who find it a turn-on when a woman says “no.” I just don’t. I understand lust – pretty well, I think – but what could be more of a turn-off than an unwilling partner?

Life is moments you can’t understand
And that is life
Holding to the ground as the ground keeps shifting
Trying to keep sane as the rules keep changing…
Everything will be all right

Roy Moore

December 6, 2017

Breaking the rules

September 3, 2017

You might have thought of my wife, Joy Dewing, while reading any of a number of recent theatre news articles. Normally, I’d provide links to the articles, but today I’m a little short on time. They were:

The national tour of The Little Mermaid led by an Asian-American Ariel and how middle America is reacting to her.
The controversy about the role in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 going from Josh Grobin to Okieriete Onaodowan and then, almost, to Mandy Patinkin, ending up with the show closing.
The New England production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime that cast an actor who is, as we say nowadays, “on the autism spectrum” in the lead role of a young man on the autism spectrum.

Joy Dewing has been everybody’s favorite casting director in New York for about ten years. She rose from unpaid intern to name-on-the-door partnership with Dave Clemmons; then when Dave left casting five years ago, she founded Joy Dewing Casting. She’s cast a lot of tours, some Broadway, many regional productions, but had nothing to do with the shows mentioned.

Or did she?

To no small degree, Joy has shaken things up in the theatre casting business. She never forgot her days as a performer, and how auditioners used to be treated like cattle – they literally called auditions “cattle calls” – in a very unsatisfying experience for all. In essence, Joy wanted to change that world; and did.

The two main ways she effected that change were leading by example – that is, providing the model of a vastly innovative casting company that others followed – and serving on the Diversity Committee of the Casting Society of America. Joy’s improvements, in some cases, became industry-wide standards. And so one can argue she had something to do with the success of three hit shows she didn’t really work on. And so I will.

This year, news events and presidential proclamations have reminded us that there is much racial prejudice across America. The internet gives rude bozos the confidence to say disturbing things anonymously, and, astoundingly, Diana Huey saw racist complaints from Seattle to Memphis about the mere fact that she, an American of Japanese descent, is portraying The Little Mermaid. Of course, this venom was spewed by miscreants who hadn’t actually seen the show. Those who had loved Huey’s performance.

Roll back a couple of years to the national tour of another family-friendly musical with an iconic title role, Annie, cast by Joy Dewing. I happened to be in the room (which is rare) when she first encountered Tori Bates and saw a ten-year-old’s potential. When you get a lead role in a show, there are a slew of callbacks, and Joy sees to it that aspirants bring their best game. Ask anyone who’s gotten a role in any of her dozens of shows. They’ll credit Joy for providing support, encouragement and practical information leading them to win the role. Under Joy’s nurturing, Tori was chosen by director-lyricist Martin Charnin to be the first African-American Annie on stage.

Some time later, when director Glenn Casale cast the tour of The Little Mermaid, he chose the most talented performer and didn’t consider race. Which is as it should be. Which is as it is in no small part because of Joy’s example with Annie.

Last season there was a very unusual Broadway musical based on a little bit of War and Peace. Those of you who’ve read War and Peace (Joy is one) know that Tolstoy didn’t write about black people. When Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 opened on Broadway, much was made of its extraordinary staging. Seats were torn out of the Imperial Theatre to make room for platforms, so that the show could play in various spaces surrounded by audience on all sides. Don’t picture theatre in the round; picture a Calder mobile: different-sized planks, at different heights, dotting a crowd. Dave Malloy’s music is rather dissimilar to any Broadway score you’ve heard before. Staging and score got people talking. You know what didn’t? The multi-racial casting.

Denée Benton was nominated for a Tony for her portrayal of Natasha. Earlier, off-Broadway, the role had been played by Phillipa Soo, who later earned fame as Hamilton’s stalwart wife. Another actor from Hamilton, Okieriete Onaodowan, replaced superstar Josh Groban, recently, as Pierre. In all of that time, nobody seemed to mind that the cast was chock full of actors who didn’t look remotely Russian. Then, the need to up the box office led to the announcement that Broadway legend Mandy Patinkin would replace Oak Onaodowan as Pierre. My first thought was “But he’s twice as old!” In a massive public relations debacle, this most un-racist of shows was accused of insensitivity in felling an Oak for last century’s model. But you know all that.

What you might not know is that Joy’s tireless work on that diversity committee helped foster an environment where casting with no regard to skin-tone isn’t blinked at. She set up listening forums, in which casting directors heard first-hand of the struggles players-of-color face. And then she went beyond ethnic diversity. What struggles do so-called actors-with-disabilities face? What can be done to evolve to a place where character men in wheelchairs play something other than The Man Who Came To Dinner and Sunrise At Campobello?

I happened to be reading the capsule reviews in The New Yorker and was struck that two in a row mentioned disabled thespians on stage. And I thought of the aforementioned production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime with the actor who understands autism experientially. And I thought of Joy, who had nothing to do with those two plays, The Little Mermaid, Natasha/Pierre, or The Curious Incident, but EVERYTHING to do with creating the world in which they exist.

Happy birthday, darling.

Where the bee sucks

July 13, 2017

One of my favorite cans of worms has been opened! And by no less than the recently-appointed co-chief drama critic of The New York Times, Jesse Green. He states something that, to me, is obvious, but very few musical theatre fans seem to understand. That the elements that make for a good listening experience to the consumer of an Original Cast Album are markedly different than what makes good theatre.

It started, as so much does these days, with a tweet. This came from the composer-lyricist of a score Green didn’t much care for, Groundhog Day. It challenged him to listen to the cast album three times and see if his opinion wasn’t altered. And it was. Green had a more positive view of the show’s songs after hearing the album.

There’s something inherently unfair about that challenge, though. Theatre-goers pay between $100 and $200 for a ticket to witness a performance once. At those prices, they ought to enjoy it the first time. Over the years I’ve talked to countless people who’ve admitted they didn’t like a show until they’d heard the recording a few times. To which I’ve said, “Then the songwriter has failed in what he set out to do.”

Let’s break this down. Are you writing your show for the one-time live person in your theatre’s seat, or are you writing for the repeat listener of a record, someone you hope will grow to enjoy it? I get that hearing something over and over and again can add to your appreciation – that’s fine – but theatre writers are trying to entertain ticket-buyers. Recording artists – a wholly different breed – are fashioning albums that they hope will yield more on iteration.

Green then looks at last season’s new musicals, and places them in three categories:

Those that are more enjoyable on record than in the theatre

Groundhog Day
In Transit
War Paint

Those that make a better impression live on Broadway than on an album

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Come From Away
as well as the revivals of Falsettos and Hello Dolly

Those he couldn’t abide in either format

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
A Bronx Tale
Holiday Inn

And what did he say of the Tony winner, Dear Evan Hansen? Equally good both ways.

What I find exciting about this article is that, at last, someone’s delineating the different process we go through reacting to live theatre versus reacting to something through speakers.

Minchin’s challenge forced me to consider not only how his songs for “Groundhog Day” sounded after repeat exposure but also how listening to them in a nontheatrical context altered their texture.

Among other things, I realized that a lot of the rhymes I hadn’t liked onstage seemed harmless when I no longer needed to get information from them. But I still feel, and songwriters I spoke to agreed, that a show with such satirical heft would have benefited from the clean ping of exactly matched sounds.

On the other hand, the songs whose musical structure I’d found “baggy” now seemed more compelling than they did in the theater, where the intensity of the action interfered with their reception.

Theatre is a live art form. And our reactions to what we see enacted before our eyes – well, that’s what matters most. We take in a score in a significantly different way if we only use our ears.

And yet we cast judgments based on hearing alone. We open our ears to cast recordings and, naturally and inevitably, come up with some assessment as to whether a show is good or not. But we are being intentionally misled. And I don’t mean to make it sound evil. Creators of cast albums obviously want to make the things sound as good as possible. But let’s look at some specifics.

One of my favorite albums – as a listening experience – is A New Brain, by William Finn. Yes, my friend Liz Larsen is on it, as well as the then-unknown Kristin Chenoweth, and I’d Rather Be Sailing is justifiably hailed as one of the greatest romantic show tunes of our time. You take in this record and go, “My God, this is great.” In the theatre, however, it was more than a tad less compelling. The annoying protagonist undergoes brain surgery and this leads to a long and abstruse hallucination. The viewer loses his bearings and tedium sets in. I’d rather be sailing than be so adrift again.

Ask most of the people I know to name the best musical they ever saw, and you hear Follies a lot. The original production, co-directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, was, I keep getting told, particularly fabulous. The original cast album, however, is severely truncated. It’s widely regarded as botched, a hatchet job, and I think everyone agrees it was better to be there than to listen to that piece of…vinyl.

Another record that comes to mind is House of Flowers. Listening to those sophisticated Harold Arlen melodies, you begin to fantasize that it had to have been quite a treat to see. (Peter Brook was the director. In the cast: Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Juanita Hall, Ray Walston, Alvin Ailey and Geoffrey Holder.) But House of Flowers, I hate to report, is a witless tale of bickering whorehouse madams and an ingénue so gullible, she’s too stupid for us to care what happens to her.

The world of musical comedy is filled with people who know shows only through their albums, and that leads to an odd sort of tunnel vision. One can appreciate A New Brain on CD and House of Flowers on disc and have no inkling what a chore they are to sit through. And, if you’re a producer or director, a good album gives rise to a little fantasy that if you put it on you’ll lick all those problems that Peter Brook couldn’t. But A) you’re not better than Peter Brook and B), it’s still about a bordello competition and an idiotic child-woman.


April 30, 2017

Sure, spring is a time of change, but was anyone fully prepared for the tumultuous transformation of New York’s community of critics? I sure wasn’t. Each alteration (and altercation?) came as a complete surprise to me, and since I’ve never been fond of change, I got a little sad over every move.

The spring of our discontent actually started in winter (say, there’s a better phrase) when the Times let go of long-time second-stringer Charles Isherwood. His was a voice we’d gotten used to hearing, as, over the years, an increasing number of notable shows weren’t reviewed by Chief Drama Critic Ben Brantley. The longstanding tradition is to believe that the Chief Drama Critic is the Most Powerful Man on Broadway. Which breeds considerable fear. And antipathy. Understudy Isherwood never garnered the same dread.

I grew up reading Walter Kerr in the Times every Sunday. Kerr’s early career included the writing of a couple of Broadway musicals, so there was never any doubt he was my kind of guy. Those were created with his wife, Jean Kerr, and when Walter became a critic, Jean wrote far more successful plays on her own. What would happen if a husband was put in the position of having to review his wife’s play? This Frequently Asked Question became the basis for a hit comedy by Ira Levin, Critic’s Choice.

The word, “recuse” keeps popping up these days, doesn’t it? But I digress. As a kid, I ate up Kerr’s columns. These weren’t reviews, per se, but think pieces on shows he’d seen – what made them entertaining, or how they could have been better. And that sort of analysis is what fascinated me. (It still does.) A former college professor, Walter Kerr was wonderfully articulate; hell, they named a theatre after him – a move I cheered.

The twenty-first century New York Times hasn’t provided space for Kerr-like wisdom. Luckily, there have been a handful of critics, writing for other organs, that pay attention to the machinations of theatre writing in their regular reviews. The one I’ve read most often, for the past sixteen years, is my old friend Matthew Murray at a website called Talkin’ Broadway. Every time a review of his came out, there’d be a blurb on the site’s theatre chat board, and this meant chatters were apt to respond. In effect, Matthew’s reviews were often the start of an argument. It should not surprise you to learn I like a good debate about theatre.

Murray’s no Kerr, but the connecting tissue is that from childhood to now, I’ve turned to critiques to learn more about writing for the theatre. And I should have already pointed out that it’s wholly unnecessary to agree with an opinion if you’re looking to learn from it. So, here we are, wondering what to make of the phenomenal success of Hamilton. What does it mean for us as musical theatre writers? Well, I found reading those rave reviews tiring after a while. The only naysayer I could find: Matthew Murray. Now, don’t jump to the conclusion that he’s some sort of idiot due to his immunity to the show’s many charms. Read what he has to say. It’s fascinating to learn why all the things that clicked for you didn’t click for him. That’s an education.

Ten years ago, my show, Such Good Friends, was chosen for presentation in the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Would Matthew review my show, risking a rift like the one in Critic’s Choice? Nope. This wasn’t the first time Matthew had dealt with a friend on the other end of his microscope. He’d recuse himself, but would make sure another critic covered my show. He’d also write a feature about the show before it opened. Privately, he told me that he’d very much enjoyed. Then, at the end of the year, the Talkin’ Broadway reviewers named the best musicals they’d seen in any festival that year. And the winners were:

  • Bash’d – Awarded by Dan Bacalzo
  • The Seven-Year B*tch – Awarded by Peter Filichia
  • Unlock’d – Awarded by Matthew Murray
  • Such Good Friends – Awarded by Linda Tullberg

Talk about win-win! Matthew (and Peter Filichia) honored friends of mine, and I got the same honor from a stranger.

If the past few paragraphs have seemed like a valedictory, it’s because my astute old friend has decided to exit, to give up his position as reviewer of theatre for something that (I assume) pays a whole lot better. His last review posted a couple days ago. And what comes to mind is a news story I recently read about a public library somewhere in the northwest closing its doors. This great wealth of knowledge will no longer be part of my ongoing schooling. (I’ll also miss David Cote in Time Out New York.)

One bit of wisdom I’d picked up from Matthew is that Jesse Green, of New York Magazine, is another really good critic. And here you don’t have to take my word for it, or Matthew’s. The New York Times chose Green to replace Isherwood, which is good news for those of us who like good writing. The Times, “The Paper of Record,” sees itself as a meritocracy. Only the best get to work there. And yet, there was something of a hue and cry over the Green appointment. For quite a while, theatre criticism at The Times has come from white men, and there were those who’d been hoping the job would go to someone not white or not male. Before this teapot tempest, it hadn’t occurred to me Jesse Green was a white dude. (Jesse is a female character name in one of my shows.) I merely knew he was good – from reading him.

On the other hand, there’s another critic who consistently writes perplexing sentences. The kind I read over and over, trying to figure out their meaning, and only succeed half the time. The critic’s name doesn’t reveal gender, or any particular ethnicity. The most recent review, of Hello Dolly!, spends paragraph after paragraph telling the oft-told biography of Bette Midler, as if we needed to be introduced to one of the biggest stars of our time. Had this critic been chosen by the Times, they would have gotten that much hoped-for Person of Color. But a far worse choice, I think. But what do I know? This spring this abstruse scribbler won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.



One day we dance

January 9, 2017

People – good people – are steadfastly ignoring the reality of the life of Rockettes.

This here blog steadfastly steers clear of politics, but, currently, the world of musical comedy, of which the Rockettes are a part, overlaps with the political sphere, of which the Inaugural is a part. (My fear is, should I start discussing politics, I might unleash a torrent of sphere words.)

It shouldn’t be too controversial to point out that a lot of people hate Donald Trump. Looking ahead at his presidency, I predict there will be times to call for his impeachment, times to call for a filibuster of some horrible legislation he pushes for, times to march in various protests. The aim might be removing him from office, or stopping a bad law from passage, or affecting policy. I’ll be there.

But the Inaugural is a little different. Taking a stand as Trump’s sworn in will not effect change. No law will be stopped; no policy could possibly be altered; Chief Justice Roberts will administer that oath no matter how unhappy the majority of voters are.

In the weeks since the election, various music superstars have publicly refused their invitation to perform at Trump’s installation ceremony. Good for you, Elton John! You’re already a multi-millionaire with a huge income (including musical comedies) and nothing bad will happen to you by declining to sing outdoors in Washington, DC in the middle of January.

But Rockettes aren’t millionaires. Far from it. For some reason, nobody’s addressed the brass tacks economic issues faced by New York’s dancers. The competition to get jobs is fierce. To be in that world-famous kick line, you have to be a certain size. Also, dancers have notably short careers. Rockettes must live close enough to Radio City Music Hall to work there, and apartments ain’t cheap.

Roll back, for a moment, to the time before they were Rockettes. (It happens that I knew some Rockettes before they got the gig, so it’s easy for me to picture this.) They train – hard – to ascend to a level of proficiency that’s particularly difficult for me to imagine right now after all that holiday eating. But these young women aren’t starving themselves as a strategy, they’re near starving due to the economics inherent in their chosen profession. Gigs, when you can succeed at getting one, are usually brief, low-paying, and health benefits are nearly impossible to come by. They hold down survival jobs, frequently soul-crushing ones, just to pay the bills. And those bills include dance classes, gym time, and have you ever seen the price of LaDuca shoes?

Imagine, then, each Rockette’s thrill signing their first contract. At last, steady work! With benefits. Their parents will proudly tell everyone they know. It’s a plum credit on a resumé. You get to work in the gorgeous Radio City Music Hall, well taken-care-of by backstage staff. In these ways, it’s a dream assignment.

One might feel that, besides the many good things involved in being a Rockette, there are also some not-so-good things. That’s true of any job, no? You might not like the hours, for instance: an exhausting performance schedule during the Christmas season. Here’s where it gets a little complex: certain Rockettes aren’t allowed to turn down gigs; other assignments are voluntary. They performed at previous inaugurations, and many other patriotic displays. You weigh the pluses and minuses of any job, and if the pluses tip the scale, you take it.

People – good people – were initially upset with the idea that the Rockettes were being forced to perform. This seems to me a strange sort of thing to get upset about, especially compared to the large number of Trump proposals that will have a negative impact on ordinary innocent people all over the world. A worker, of any sort, signs a contract, agreeing to terms with a boss who has certain requirements of labor. How is that anyone else’s business? If the talented dancers didn’t want the job, which comes with certain requirements and restrictions, they didn’t have to sign the contract.

But then the hue and cry shifted slightly, from saying the high-kickers shouldn’t be forced to perform at the Inauguration to saying they simply shouldn’t perform at Donald Trump’s installment at all. The argument, here, is the same one we’ve heard for a year and a half: that Trump is an affront to human decency, that he spreads bigotry and fear, that he acts so childishly and unscrupulously he can’t be trusted with the Oval Office and nuclear codes. (I agree with all of that.) But there’s a big therefore coming:


you, tall dancer, should not grace his stage on the 20th. Our feeds and, ironically, the Twitterverse, lit up with exhortations to the young ladies to sit this one out. As if it’s important. As if it’s the only proper response to the perfidy of the new Commander-in-Cheeto.

Good people: could you get off your high horse?

Yes, I realize how you feel about Trump, but what you fail to realize is how financially precarious the life of a dancer is. She Works Hard For the Money was a song in a film about a not-rich dancer for a reason. It’s one thing to pressure Celine Dion or Andrea Bocelli to eschew the celebration – they’re very rich, but how dare you make a young professional performer feel bad about making a buck? Boycotting is a purely symbolic gesture – the sort only upper class people can afford. So save your liberal piety for the important stuff, coming soon, after January 20.