Last week I went to the Imperial Theater to see Ain’t Too Proud, a biography in song and dance of the ultimate Motown supergroup, The Temptations. It was one of the many Broadway shows that are often overlooked in favor of heavy hitters like Cats or Wicked, but is still entertaining nonetheless.
The performance reminded me of why people go to Broadway in the first place. The music, the dancing, the acting, and the story, surprisingly, are all secondary.
Why We Go to the Theater
The real reason we go to the theater is to experience the energy and joy of the performers who are right in front of us, operating on that tightrope where there are no second chances, no explanations or forgiveness for forgetting one’s lines or moves, and instead the excitement and thrill of watching individuals living their dreams and demonstrating the greatness of the human spirit, just for us, right before our very eyes.
There’s nothing necessarily easy about getting to Broadway. First, you’ve got to get tickets, and two tickets to any Broadway show costs about the same as a year of Netflix or Disney Plus. Next, you’ve got to make your way to Midtown Manhattan, an increasingly difficult chore, since Mayor de Blasio has all but outlawed private vehicles and, somehow, made traffic even worse than ever.
Then there’s the experience of being in the theater at Broadway shows, which is not how most people consume their entertainment these days. When you’re at home, nobody glares at you if you leave your phone on and it beeps, buzzes, or trills. You can get up and go to the bathroom anytime, not just before or after the show, in a line of fifty strangers equally desperate to pee.
At home, on the couch, you don’t have to wrestle a stranger for control of an armrest. You can sprawl as much as you like, with no one to lean on you, breathe on you, or block your view.
Is it Virtual Reality?
When we think about the term virtual, as in virtual reality, we tend to forget that the real meaning of virtue comes from the Latin word for truth. Virtual reality is, in fact, a bit of a dirty lie. It’s neither virtual (truthful) nor is it real. The performers aren’t sharing the same space with you.
They had countless takes in order to get their songs, dances, or emoting exactly the way they want it. If a note, or a dance step, or an entrance, or anything gets flubbed, no problem.
Producers on Broadway shows are a smart lot. They understand that their mission in life is to give the people what they want, and above all, that’s a rollicking good time. Even if you cannot pee on-demand or check your phone without experiencing the opprobrium of those around you. And if you don’t like what you’re watching, there’s nothing else on.
You’re stuck—literally in the middle of the row and figuratively, as there’s no other channel, website, or video to which you can turn. So it’s easy to make the case for what really shouldn’t be called virtual reality and should actually be referred to as “a bunch of stuff caught on video.”
The lure of Broadway
That said, I’m hoping you’ll do what I did: Make your way into trafficky, crowded Midtown, pay too much for dinner, pay just enough to get good seats, and wedge yourself in between a couple of strangers and arm wrestle with them for dominance on the seat dividers, and enjoy the show.
As for The Temptations itself, if you’re going to see one Broadway show, as the expression goes, you really ought to get out more often. But if you are going to see one, make it this one.
The perfection of the performance, the awesome quality of the music, the thrill of the dancing, mic tosses, and splits—you can’t get that on YouTube. Okay, yeah, you can, but you won’t breathe the same air as the performers.
And if there are any performers with whom you should share air and space, it’s the men and women of the cast and band of Ain’t Too Proud.
You can always pick up your device again after the show.