This Sporting Life (Like It or Not)
This Thursday, the NFL takes over Times Square. Actor Bryan Batt rips the decision to hold the kick-off celebration on Broadway's turf.
I like football quite a bit. How I whooped when those perennial losers, the New England Patriots, won the Super Bowl last year. I even predicted it -- and, if you don't believe me, I can play you a videotape to prove it.
I hadn't planned to make a prediction. After all, when I appear on TV (on News 12 New Jersey) each Thursday morning, I'm supposed to review or preview plays. I'm interviewed by two charming people: Mizar Turdiu, a lovely woman who enjoys theater, and Tony Caputo, who's a great guy even though he's never seen a Broadway show in his life.
On the Thursday before the Super Bowl, my original plan was to promote Anne Hathaway in the upcoming Encores! Carnival!, for she's a New Jersey native. When Mizar and Tony asked me what was coming up next week, I started out well, saying, "There's Carnival!, the musical version of Lili" -- to which Mizar said, "Oh, I love that movie!" which made me quip, "Yeah, Tony loves it, too, and will probably watch it after the Patriots beat the Rams on Sunday."
"The Patriots beat the Rams!" Tony cried in disbelief, for sportscasters had been predicting that New England would lose to St. Louis by at least 14 points. That caused me to embark on a theory I've had for some time. "Yes," I said. "Have you ever noticed that teams named after people have a tendency to do better than teams named after animals? It makes sense; people are a higher life form. So that's why, if you look at the history of sports, the Yankees -- people -- have been the most successful team in baseball; the Celtics -- people -- have been the best in basketball; and the Canadiens -- people -- have been the greatest in hockey. In football, the Cowboys and the '49ers -- people -- have won the most Super Bowls. The Dolphins have done almost as well, and dolphins are considered to be the animals who most resemble people."
They were both astonished and amused, but I was on a roll. "In Chicago, haven't the Bears done better than the Cubs? That's because they're more mature. And notice that the Angels and the Saints have had the least success of any teams. That's because they're Angels and Saints -- they want you to win."
As it turned out, I never did get around to mentioning Anne Hathaway. But after the Patriots won that Sunday, I was counting the days like a kid till Christmas to get on air again and crow. Thursday finally arrived and Tony started by saying, "Well, tell us about Kevin Bacon in An Almost Holy Picture," to which I said, "Excuse me, before we get into that: May I remind you that on this very stage last week, when all the sportscasters were predicting that the Patriots would lose by two touchdowns, who predicted that they'd win? The theater critic! I tell you, I don't know what we're paying those sportscasters for."
So, as you can see, I like football. I'm quite a fan. But I am in agreement with Bryan Batt, the actor whom I first saw in a Cats suit -- not in Cats but in Jeffrey, where he portrayed an actor who was currently in the Lord Lloyd Webber spectacular. Batt, who's now Lumiere in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, took issue a few weeks ago with the fact that the National Football League will be kicking off its 2002 season in, of all places, Times Square.
"I am quite disheartened by the attitude of the Mayor's office to the League of American Theaters and Producers concerning the potential financial thrashing and unnecessary nuisance the September 5 NFL extravaganza in Times Square could cause," he said. Granted, much of Batt's anger at that time was because "the proposed time frame for [the event] would lead up to the blessed kick-off, which coincides with an 8pm curtain. This would make it virtually impossible for Broadway actors, musicians, stagehands, dressers, ushers, and all those workers connected to get into their theaters, not to mention inhibiting the tens of thousands of patrons who have purchased tickets to attend."
Luckily, the powers-that-be also realized that potential problem and pushed back all of Thursday's Broadway curtains to 8:30pm. TDF's TKTS booth is also making accommodations, and today (Wednesday, September 4) they're allowing theatergoers to purchase tickets not only for tonight's shows but also for Thursday's shows. They'll open as usual at 3pm and they'll stay open until an unprecedented 10pm. On Thursday (September 5), TKTS will open at an unusual 10am and will stay open until 8:30pm -- just before showtime.
But Batt still has a gripe. As he said, "It is a fact that escaping the theater following performances on New Year's Eve, due to the madness and the masses, is utterly hopeless. Therefore, in recent years, many producers have altered the holiday schedule to omit the December 31 evening show. But now, given that blocks of tickets for September 5 were sold months upon months in advance, theatergoers and the theatrical community have not been given anywhere near the proper time to prepare for such an event."
Then Batt came to the main event. "I don't remotely grasp the connection of football with Times Square. Were this a baseball-related [celebration], it would take place in the Bronx or Flushing. Basketball would be in the Garden and tennis in Queens. Shouldn't the football fete be set in the Meadowlands where the teams actually play? This situation reeks of a grave lack of consideration and the worst of all when connected with the theater: bad timing.
"I realize that some may ask about the annual free theater concert [Broadway on Broadway] and pose that it's only fair to have the NFL musical burlesque [in Times Square] as well," Batt continues. If that must be, he suggests, "mount it at an appropriate and less obstructive time. Broadway on Broadway takes place in the Times Square vicinity on a fall Sunday, not a 9-to-5 workday, and well prior to the 3pm matinee. Also, at this event one is not usually subjected to overweight ex-fratboys with painted bellies spelling out Mamma Mia! or Phantom of the Opera -- just the occasional pre-school girl dressed as Belle from Disney's Beauty and the Beast."
Batt closed with a pretty apt observation: "As my dresser and I were discussing this situation, we noticed that this is just high school all over again. While the football team receives new uniforms and equipment, the drama club, once again, gets the proverbial shaft."
Mr. B., even though I'm a football fan, I agree with everything you say -- except for one thing. I'd be grateful to see ex-frat boys with painted bellies spelling out Mamma Mia! or Phantom of the Opera. It'd be exciting to see such people excited over Broadway and not just the Bears, Bills, and Buccaneers.