Saturday, October 25, 2003

The Boston Herald is a tabloid and not the most literate of that rather limited species by any means. But it went to bat late last week with the rest of the city against the Wang Center, a conglomerate of performing venues under the umbrella of a not-for-profit. The actual building in question used to be called The Metropolitan Center and several other names before that, I'm sure. It's a huge old movie palace in high late Beaux-Arts Victorian Baroque style dating from around 1910. The grand lobby is a feast of marble and gilt bronze. The stage, as was typical for a movie palace that had a vaudeville-type show as a curtain raiser for the movie, used to be quite shallow with little off-stage space because comedy acts and the occasional girly show finale really didn't require much room. Then An Wang gave vast amounts to have an all new stage house constructed so that big shows, shows on a scale to fill a 4000 seat auditorium, could play there. The place was named for him, and the Boston Ballet, which had been struggling to do its productions on the old cramped stage for years, settled happily into residence in a first class facility. Fot thirty five years in one production or another, the Ballet has been presenting the city with one full month of Tchaikovsky's THE NUTCRACKER each year over the Christmas/New Year/Hannukah Holidays.

Until NEXT year. The Wang informed the Ballet they would not be welcome to do NUTCRACKER there after this December since the Wang "hoped" to get the touring arm of Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Show in the future. The Herald's headline, with a typical Herald pun, was "Are they NUTS???" The Ballet is a beloved fixture of Boston's cultural life and its current NUTCRACKER production is by all standards "the" NUTCRACKER to see in the U.S. They pulled out all the stops, even to having Clara and the Prince enter act two in a hot air balloon. That the Wang would throw the city's great holiday tradition out on the street seems incomprehensible to everyone, and the whole affair quickly turned into a well-deserved public relations catastrophe for the Wang management and board of directors.

The mayor even got into the act very quickly, announcing on TV that "The Wang isn't going to be the Scrooge of THIS city's Christmas." He is trying to negotiate performance space in either the old Hines Concention Center or the new major Convention Complex in South Boston that will host the Democratic National Presidential Convention this summer. The problem, of course, is that neither space is really set up as a theater--all of which points to another of the mayor's pet causes--Boston doesn't need a new Fenway Park or a sports megaplex, Boston needs a genuine performing arts center.

Well, God love the man (Tom Menino) because there are precious few advocates for the arts these days in this country. He is smart enough to know the incredibly valuable service the Ballet's annual NUTCRACKER run provides for the city's children. Thousands of kids, whose schools currently have no band or chorus or music classes because of budget cuts and neanderthal administrators, get exposed to a live orchestra playing Tchaikovsky for a first rate ballet company with superb production values in unamplified, unspliced, undigitized, unrecolored or manipulated live performance.

The NUTCRACKER even provided a full month's guaranteed rental income for the Wang management. All this they have rejected for the "hope" of getting the Rockettes and a living mock-up of the nativity scene. What they deserve is for the Radio City Show to go elsewhere and the place to go begging for a rental for the whole month.

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