The Great Web Way
Theater goes above and beyond Theater goes above and beyond
Theater smells. Really. It's pretty potent at times, too. But this is a good thing! The closeness, the sensuality, the smell of a live performance ... they all give it a power that a film can't match. (Granted, some movies stink, but that's not the same thing.) Ironically, that cold, remote tool we know as the Web is bringing the best of live theater to a global audience.

For instance, say you're planning a trip to New York City and you'd like to see a Broadway show. Nowadays, a typical ticket for a musical costs around $85. That's ridiculous, or as we'd say in Manhattan, "Gedouddaheah!" For that amount of moolah, wouldn't you like to know ahead of time if the show is worth it? After all, for every great production like Rent or Les Misérables, there's at least one Footloose or Carrie: The Musical.

That's where the Web comes in. Most of the big dramas and musicals have official sites, offering info on the production, cast biographies, photos, and even ticket sales. In addition, if the show has a production on national tour or in another city like London, those facts will be online as well; Chicago's site is a good example. You can get details about other audience favorites and such recent Tony Award-winners as Death of a Salesman, The Iceman Cometh, and Jekyll & Hyde.

Likewise, Disney's magnificent live version of The Lion King also has an online presence, as does Beauty and the Beast. Disney provides video clips and many details about both musicals. Unfortunately, neither site unveils the evil truth about Mayor Rudolph Guiliani selling out the city's soul to the dark god Disney in exchange for political power ... ahem, excuse me. I digress.

Obviously, the official sites want you to see the plays, so if you're looking for an unbiased opinion, check out the theater reviews in The New York Times and be sure to visit the superb Playbill On-Line. The official Web site of the little book that's handed to you when you go to your seat, Playbill has Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional, and London listings, plus weekly columns from theater experts.

We tend to think of the Internet as an interactive medium; that is, typing and clicking affect what we see. Theater, though, represents the ultimate in interaction: Actors are performing for you, reacting to your applause live on stage, although the imaginary "wall" between you and the set is often in the way. A few productions shatter that wall and take interaction to the extreme. The "aliens" of Blue Man Group, now playing in New York, Boston, and elsewhere, use audience members as active participants as they inhale Twinkies and cover the crowd in toilet paper. (Trust me, it's hysterical. Go!)

Also breaking boundaries (and attendance records) is Stomp, where performers use broomsticks, cans, bags, and cigarette lighters to create a breathtaking, athletic symphony. Even wilder is De La Guarda. This Argentine troupe performs on elastic bungee cords! They fly and hover above the crowd, occasionally landing in the audience and even taking lucky people into the air with them. Let's see you top that, George Lucas! De La Guarda's show is more of an event than a performance, and they've been hurtling to rave reviews both on Off-Broadway and in London. However, if you're hoping to do somersaults in the air, maybe you should eat that pasta dinner after the show.

One more bit of advice: If you're going to buy any theater tickets online, go to TicketWeb first. TicketMaster and Tele-Charge add service charges up the wazoo, whereas TicketWeb's fee -- around $2 -- is easy to swallow. It offers tickets to shows, festivals, and other events all over the U.S., as well as in the U.K., Europe, Canada, and the Caribbean. It's a good bargain that'll keep your checkbook from sinking like the Titanic.

--Ken Hart, who wants to star in The Scarlet Pimpernel

Other sites worthy of a curtain call:
  • BroadwayNow
  • London Theatre Guide
  • Yahoo's list of shows and sites

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