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Broadway or Bust a bust?

Broadway or Bust a bust?

Billed as “part competition, part performance, and part non-fiction drama,” Broadway or Bust (PBS) tells the story of 60 high school students vying for recognition as the nation’s leading male and female high school musical theatre performers.

The first episode of the three-part miniseries begins with an introduction to the 60 finalists, selected from more than 50,000 high school students.  The second episode depicts a grueling, weeklong boot camp that introduces the contestants to the highs, lows and setbacks of a life on Broadway. The final episode, airing Sunday, reveals the winners of the National High School Musical Theater Awards.

The concept of the show – part Glee, part American Idol – has excited theatre fans eager for more Broadway-sized drama on the small screen, but does the show deliver?

No, the show “relies on stale reality TV tropes,” says Alex Kaufman of  The Tufts Daily, who faults the show for focusing too much on the competition and not enough on the contestants’ back story. The structure of the show is too much like American Idol, which forces the aspiring stars to mug for the camera while spouting the trite clichés of reality TV competition. “These young adults won’t rest until they are the best. That is their modus operandi. … Sadly, the end goal of this game is not artistic satisfaction but vacuous commercial victory.”

Actually, the contestants offer a “refreshing contrast to the ruthless, dog-eat-dog ethos of so many reality-show competitions,” according to Don Aucoin of He cites the example of Evan, who confesses he’s not a great singer and then proves it with his “off-key version of ‘Master of the House,’ from Les Misérables. But … Evan utilizes his comic chops to the max, and his performances draw delighted applause from his peers.” The scene, in his view, depicts an atmosphere of collegiality and mutual support.

A pair of Bay Area participants agrees with Aucoin. “This was more about putting a show together – the finished product,” said Nicholas Wetherbee in an interview with Chuck Barney of the Contra Costa Times. “And at the end, when the finalists were announced, there were no hurt feelings, no tears. We just supported and cheered each other on.”

Either way, the series is “addictive,” according to The Huffington Post. Do you agree?