The Broadway National Tour is a good thing; it allows Broadway to travel to you. People who could not afford air fair, hotel stay, and food only have to pay for the price of tickets. Think of the millions of people who have had wonderful theatre experiences with Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Lion King, and Mama Mia because of tours. In terms of outreach programs, the national tour is one of the best in the American theatre and a huge asset to Broadway.
But going to see a Broadway tour can also be a craps shoot. I am not in any way knocking the hundreds of talented actors who are able to make a living off of these tours. Nor am I knocking the hundreds of hard working stage hands and technicians who also make their living off of tours. I am, however, questioning the producers who get rich off a second and sometimes third tour when the play becomes tired and stale. Sometimes a play gets overexposed. And how many people really believe that any of the actors in the current tour of Phantom of the Opera or Lion King has ever met Hal Prince or Julie Taymor.
Some of the more recent tours I have seen have felt more like a amusement park show than a theatrical event. After hundreds of performances on the same set in different auditoriums, the production has a cookie cutter feeling. Rather than really reaching out into the audience and performing for them, the performer's energies do not travel past the proscenium arch.
I will admit that I have seen plenty of excellent tours and have been grateful for them. But since the national tour is such an important instrument in outreach and often a first-impression of the theatre for many young people, we don't want to give a bad impression that will turn people off to the theatre. At what point does the risk of poor art outweigh the outreach potential? And when does profit take back seat?