Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Spamalot on Ice

It's 10 degrees in New York and still the hottest ticket in town is Spamalot, the Monty Python, Eric Idle musical shenanigan. We just trudged across the snow-covered, black-iced streets to check the box office and were offered seats for this evening's performance at a mere $310 a pop -- gosh, that's only three times the regular price. Which raises the question: is Monty Python -- nay, is Eric Idle funny if you've paid $620 for a pair of tickets? Add to that that the Booth Theatre is so small that if John Wilkes jumped from this balcony he would not have sprained his ankle.

So we passed on the "opportunity." Two nights later, thousands of miles from wife and family, we tried again -- on Valentine's Day. Sure enough, there had been a few spats earlier in the day -- and a couple of tickets were now available at a much more reasonable, laughable price. We snatched them up and proceeded to our seats. Should this show be a hot ticket? Of course -- and if you see the show, that gives you an idea of how healthy the musical comedy is in the 21st century. My only two complaints: in the first Act, the princess plays her role almost straight and doesn't dip too deeply into the campy style of acting -- and her part works beautifully and hysterically.

Act II, unfortunately, has her show up way over the top, as if to say, "if you didn't know I was here schticking it up earlier, well, I'm here now and I AM really schticking it up." The other complaint will be easily dismissed as time passes: one of the Knights Who Say Nee makes an aside, alluding to our Vice President's hunting skills. I have no issue with poking fun of the VP peppering buckshot in the face of an old man; what bothered me is that the joke is not placed anywhere in particular, does not come from any action or inaction in the performance. It's just delivered, like a bad stand-up comic would throw out material on the Joey Bishop Show.

Otherwise, the show was a hoot and worth a number of howls.

Miles to Go Before Toy Fair Sleeps

One can only imagine that the woods are lovely, dark and deep. In Central Park, the woods are covered with a record snowfall of 26.9 inches. In the City, cars are bulldozed into a state of frozen impermanence as plows pile and carve the blizzardy storm blast into the curbs, making it more treacherous for pedestrians to walk than motorists to drive. The New Yorker spirit thrives with passersby willing to push a taxi that in normal weather would otherwise run them over.

So what did this mean for Toy Fair? The spirit of Toy Fair Past pushed many into the Javits Center and fewer into the Toy Center, where a few diehard companies maintained their showrooms. The sentiments were varied, but our unscientific poll had Toy Fair next year in Vegas. It wasn't so much the snow storm that compelled many folks to think about the February Toy Fair closing down in New York. Indeed, the snow was but a metaphor -- imagine a soft white blanket being placed upon a corpse -- the corpse is the show itself. There's no hope that the blanket of snow will revive the dead show; but there is a quiet resolve that the snow was the final cap on what was inevitable. The snow blew into town faster than most people could set up their booths. And its firm but temporary paralysis gave one just enough time to pause. Buses kept running, but few rode them.

That a lack of energy was missing from what will hopefully be the final February show in New York is an understatement. Even at the Javits, one could feel a certain sense of being dupped for the last time. With the bigger toy companies having their own private shows with the major toy buyers and the mid-sized toycos being further compressed by the market, it makes sense for the industry to accept the inevitable and change -- otherwise, there's no reason for the trade show OR the industry association to exist. Spinning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see the falconer. Javits or Toy Center or one of the buildings near Toy Center or some midtown hotel or -- how about this: Vegas! You know, what happens there, stays there.

Dump the October Pre-Show -- where will it be held -- Church Street? That's not a likely destination for companies that manufacture fun. How about -- oh, I don't know -- Vegas?! In order to make the show make sense -- it needs a bigger reason to exist -- like it's a preview of what's to come in Hong Kong, so hold the show in November. Or it's a follow-up to Hong Kong, so hold the show in May.

With a new faction and fraction of the industry now doing its own independent hunt for a building, presumably still in New York, it's clear that the industry needs to get smart leadership and wrangle together what's left of the small to medium-sized companies and make a run for it. Where's the glue holding this industry together? Stop sniffing and start mending. This was a convention of convulsions. For those who attended Toy Fair, you could see the light at the end of the tunnel, as the paddles of life were drawn away one last time. The death knell sounded several years ago for the February Toy Fair -- the year companies stopped doing giveaways. Indeed, what's a trade fair without tchotchkes?