One girl is boring,
And two is obscene.
Give him hundreds
Thus Mack Sennett, in the musical Mack and Mabel, revealing how to make your average Joe happy at the movies. Sadly, at the show’s West End première, the more Mack sings about “Hundreds and Hundreds of Girls,” the more you notice that there are, in fact, precisely eleven of them, strung out across the vast Piccadilly Theatre stage so thinly that, in the gaps between, Mack could drive a truck. A number intended to celebrate the lavishness of motion pictures instead draws attention only to the stinginess of theater.
It’s considered bad taste to discuss the legitimate stage in these terms. Yet the economics of theater is now its defining characteristic. Of course, movies are spectacular mainly because of slick editing, for which theater has never found an equivalent. And electronic...