To: Kevin Moriarty, Artistic Director, Dallas Theater Center
I take no pleasure in sending this note, but since I’ve seen only reflexive cheerleading in the local media for “Stagger Lee,” I thought you should hear from someone who loves the theatre but also remembers the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I recently returned to Dallas after years away and was eager to see how much DTC has progressed. I missed “Fortress of Solitude.” I was determined not to miss “Stagger Lee.”
The cast was excellent, I’ll say that, and I sympathized with their game attempts to slog through the incoherent narrative and un-singable songs. The ending was welcome in a way, but I also thought, “That’s it?” This is going to New York?
I was staggered much less by the show than by the top ticket price of $140, which we paid reluctantly to secure good seats. And this is really my complaint: That DTC is charging Broadway prices for a musical that is workshop level at best. I just checked the websites of the Mark Taper Forum, the Arena Stage, The Goodman and The Guthrie, and saw only one top ticket price over $100 and none close to $140. How can you justify this? I guess if people in Dallas are willing to pay it, there’s your case, but I wonder if they get out much and if they’ll be willing to pay it again?
The playwright and director have talked a lot in the press and the program about archetypes and myths and the black experience in America. That’s fine, but you must know better than I, that noble intention and academic knowledge mean little compared to what’s on the stage.
I applaud and support new play programs like the one at the O’Neill Center that helped launch August Wilson. Great that SMU and DTC are working together (in a way they never did in the old days). But in my opinion it raises false expectations for all concerned to hype something as a world premiere that is not ready to earn such notice — and to charge world-class prices for it.