I recently attended the latest Broadway revival of On The Town. The music for the show was written by Leonard Bernstein, the book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green all were based on an idea and a ballet by Jerome Robbins. The music is great – songs that are now classics such as “New York, New York,” “Carried Away,” “I Can Cook Too” and “Lucky To Be Me” make for an enjoyable listening experience. But it was the dance numbers and the staging that made this production spectacular. Especially the dance numbers at Diamond Eddie’s and the dream sequence at Coney Island which bring a real elegance to the show.
In addition to On The Town, I have also recently attended two Hofstra Drama Department productions: the first was “The Motherf**er with the Hat,” (a comedy that ran on Broadway for a short period of time) and the second was “Bat Boy: The Musical,” which had a limited run off Broadway. Both shows were excellent. Without going into details on either show, I will note that the “hat” had a crucial role in the first production (though it was a non-speaking part in a show characterized by a colorful vocabulary) and the “bat ears” were a very important symbol in the second (clearly also a non-speaking part but attached to the lead in the show). What is most important to note is that both productions were clearly of professional quality in every way from the acting to the staging. Even for a person who sees Broadway musicals continuously, these shows are time well spent.
Broadway is uniquely New York. London provides a similar experience but for most of our country the availability of Broadway quality entertainment is very limited. But here we have another example of how colleges and universities provide such important benefits to the communities in which they are located, both in the arts as well as in athletics. As an economist, I have a tendency to look at benefits in a very quantitative manner: a college or university employs X number of people who earn Y dollars, which of course provides economic opportunities for Z more people, which ultimately has a beneficial impact to the economy that is a multiple of the original college or university payroll and can be fairly accurately estimated.
But the benefits are so much greater than can be measured in any stark monetary sense. Colleges and universities all across the country provide extensive ongoing theater and cultural productions which they make available to the public often at relatively low cost, often less than a first run movie. This entertainment and everything else a university provides including athletics, enhances the quality of life of the surrounding community and ultimately the real estate values in that community. Plus all groups in the community are potentially benefited by what is provided. When we talk about the community benefits of a college or university, we need to make sure that the very substantial noneconomic benefits also receive the attention that they deserve. We really are in so many ways – economic and noneconomic – an indispensable part of the community we live in, and we, in fact, strengthen the fabric of the community.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.