In Singular Sensation (Avid Reader, Nov.), theater columnist Riedel details the history of Broadway in the 1990s.
Your first book, Razzle Dazzle, focused on Broadway of the 1970s and ’80s. Was it always your plan to write a book about the ’90s?
Actually, before I did the first book, I didn’t intend on writing anything about Broadway. But I had a great connection with the Shubert Organization [a production company that owns several Broadway theaters], which has been around since 1900, and I had access to many amazing stories. So after Razzle Dazzle I thought I was done with Broadway. But a sequel to Razzle Dazzle made a lot of sense; the 1990s was amazing not only for Broadway but also for theater in general. And I lived through it. I had the best seat in the house for the entire decade.
You write that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard signaled the end of the British invasion of plays like Cats and Phantom of the Opera.
At the beginning of the decade, with the enormous production of Sunset Boulevard, it didn’t seem like anything new was coming. The infrastructure of many of the productions had gotten so big, and the money coming in was endless. The result was a heaviness; productions were too baroque. Then Jonathan Larson came in with Rent in 1996 and that changed things. The plays and the themes needed to be contemporary, to be relevant to what was going on all around Broadway—especially the issue of gentrification—and Rent helped bring Broadway down to earth.
You covered Broadway extensively in the 1990s for the New York Daily News and then for the New York Post. Yet you did more than 100 new interviews for this book.
That was an important part of capturing the immediacy of the decade. At heart, I’m a newspaperman. But I did not want to write a memoir or just rely on stories I had written. It was important to go back and talk to the people involved with the shows, and not just the writers and composers and producers, but people like set designers.
Given the long-term impact of Covid-19, and the fact that shows are effectively shut down until at least 2021, what do you think will be Broadway’s future?
I don’t think Broadway will reopen until there is a vaccine. People want to come to the theater, but people can’t come together, and that’s what Broadway has always been about. There’s nothing like the thrill of being with 1,500 other people. Broadway won’t survive on Zoom. But there will always be creative people on Broadway. I have faith that Broadway will come back.