Broadway’s houses are, for the most part, reassuringly full, and yet the theater is more beset than usual by questions about its nature. What is theater? Why do we have it? Two possible, potentially highly profitable, answers are: spectacle (as in splashy, lightsome musicals such as School of Rock, at the Winter Garden Theatre) and celebrity (as in William Goldman’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Misery, at the Broadhurst Theatre, where at the age of sixty the film and television actor Bruce Willis is making his Broadway debut).

Yet the limitations of theater have never been more apparent: the virtuosity of set manipulators who can in three seconds completely transform a space by lowering fresh scenery from the rafters or pushing it up from the basement can be marvelous in its way, but just in the last decade the digital-effects conjurers of the...

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