Book of Mormon Touring Show Criss-Crosses the U.S.

When a musical is doing well on Broadway, its producers will generally opt to take the show on a U.S. National Tour, as they will have optioned this right along with their original Broadway rights agreement.  As such, a tour is often the mark of a successful show, sometimes taking place after a show has earned a number of Tony Awards that can be touted as the show travels from state to state.  There are also cases in which a tour can be launched after a show has flopped on Broadway, in an effort to recoup some of the lost funds in cities other than New York.  For instance Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, which concluded its Broadway run on January 4, 2014, will soon open a Las Vegas production and is also considering an arena tour around the country, though its large-scale special effects may make that difficult.  While it sold many tickets over its 3-year run, becoming the sixteenth-highest grossing show of all time, it still failed to recoup its enormous capitalization, estimated at $75 million.  More investment would need to be raised, and yet a tour could potentially earn back some of Spiderman’s lost capital.

The Book Of MormonThe Book of Mormon, on the other hand, is far from a flop.  Between extremely high demand and clever dynamic pricing strategies, the satirical musical managed to recoup its $11.4 million investment after only nine months of performances.  The show has been playing at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre since March 2011, where it looks to remain for many years to come.  After making a huge splash at the 2011 Tony Awards, receiving 14 nominations and 9 wins, the show ran for another year before the producers decided to launch a national tour.  On August 14, 2012, the first national tour began at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, then proceeding to the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles where it played for the fall season, before continuing on a tour around the country that is still underway.  Meanwhile, a replica production ran at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre from December 11, 2012 to October 6, 2013, after which it also began a tour around the country, thereby allowing The Book of Mormon to enjoy two tours simultaneously.  This is in addition to the West End production, which has been running in London’s Prince of Wales Theatre since February 2013.

This is not the only show that has made the choice to launch two simultaneous tours.  Wicked presently has two tours running, and Elf the Musical launched two simultaneous tours during the holiday season of 2013.  Still, The Book of Mormon is covering a lot of ground between its two touring companies.  While the first national tour is presently playing in Boston, the second national tour is enjoying a run at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theatre, where the first tour played a year and a half ago.  Next, the first tour will play Providence, Rhode Island; Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; East Lansing, Michigan; Indianapolis, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; and the list goes on.  Meanwhile, after the second tour finishes in Los Angeles, it will proceed to Costa Mesa, California; San Diego, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and many more.  As such, the show is effectively criss-crossing the United States, allowing theatregoers all over the country to catch a performance at a theatre near them, and exponentially boosting profits for the producers.

Broadway Show Ticket Sales Analysis w/e 4/20/2014

This week’s notable movements on Broadway are:

THE TWO MILLION DOLLAR CLUB
Two heavy hitting shows, Wicked and The Lion King, both managed to cross the threshold into the two million dollar gross mark this past week.  Whereas grossing over one million dollars is already a significant achievement for any show, even a musical, these two crowd-pleasing musicals continue to show incredible success at the box office.  The reason is that each show played nine performances this past week, which is one higher than the usual 8.  The producers of both shows must have been aiming to capitalize on the higher tourist traffic due to spring break, as well as the finally balmy weather.  Wicked, which has now been running for over 10 years, holds the record for the highest weekly gross of all time, which was $3.2 million over nine performances in the last week of 2013. The Lion King, which has been running since fall 1997, was the highest grossing show of 2013, pulling in $97 million throughout the year.
This past week, Wicked grossed a whomping $2,769,554, which was an increase of $839,192 from the previous week.  With a top ticket price of $300, this show has not resorted to price gauging for premium tickets as much as, say, The Book of Mormon, which charges as much as $477 for premium seats, granted in a smaller theatre.  Filling its 17,352 seats to 100% capacity, Wicked earned 146.44% of its gross potential due to premium ticket pricing.  The Lion King, on the other hand, also made it into the two million dollar club, grossing $2,543,377 this past week over its nine performances, which was an increase of $628,440 from the previous week.  The Lion King had a top ticket price of only $197.50, which demonstrates restraint of the part of the show’s producers, and with an average ticket price of $166.19, the show grossed $102.54% of its gross potential.

OVERALL AN EXCELLENT WEEK
With few exceptions, every show experienced an increase in gross ticket sales in the week ending April 20, 2014.  The four shows that went down did so only slightly, all losing under $100,000 from the previous week. Hedwig and the Angry Inch grossed $68,797 less than last week, presumably due to complimentary press tickets given out in anticipation of its wildly successful opening.  Mothers and Sons, Of Mice and Men, and The Velocity of Autumn all went down a relatively small amount as well.  Overall, however, this was a hugely successful week on Broadway.

The following are the Broadway ticket sales numbers for the week ending April 20, 2014:

Broadway Show Ticket Analysis 4-20-14

Show GrossGross Total Attn %Cap AvgPdAdm
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER $507,224 6,201 85.46% $81.80
A RAISIN IN THE SUN $1,212,665 8,368 100.00% $144.92
ACT ONE $340,604 6,344 73.15% $53.69
AFTER MIDNIGHT $542,801 7,112 85.81% $76.32
ALADDIN $1,225,128 13,797 100.09% $88.80
ALL THE WAY $1,067,173 9,729 85.52% $109.69
BEAUTIFUL $1,027,244 8,147 99.26% $126.09
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY $974,076 11,730 89.95% $83.04
CABARET $692,319 7,094 100.42% $97.59
CASA VALENTINA $212,097 4,796 93.09% $44.22
CHICAGO $845,382 8,275 95.78% $102.16
CINDERELLA $1,412,944 13,529 96.58% $104.44
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH $815,295 7,116 100.95% $114.57
IF/THEN $1,104,188 10,372 98.89% $106.46
JERSEY BOYS $854,430 8,556 87.09% $99.86
KINKY BOOTS $1,629,283 11,341 99.55% $143.66
LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL $459,071 4,640 97.19% $98.94
LES MISÉRABLES $1,396,410 11,258 99.88% $124.04
MAMMA MIA! $950,480 9,472 101.54% $100.35
MATILDA $1,577,093 11,542 100.75% $136.64
MOTHERS AND SONS $187,192 3,355 52.29% $55.79
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL $1,179,643 11,533 95.66% $102.28
NEWSIES $1,069,367 10,756 100.85% $99.42
OF MICE AND MEN $755,158 7,508 99.96% $100.58
ONCE $681,763 7,732 91.27% $88.17
PIPPIN $882,705 7,843 99.03% $112.55
ROCK OF AGES $421,341 4,477 95.99% $94.11
ROCKY $1,022,747 10,654 87.85% $96.00
THE BOOK OF MORMON $1,689,905 8,752 102.63% $193.09
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY $345,270 5,243 64.32% $65.85
THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN $463,064 8,212 95.67% $56.39
THE LION KING $2,543,377 15,304 100.03% $166.19
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA $1,517,305 12,759 99.37% $118.92
THE REALISTIC JONESES $613,441 6,532 93.64% $93.91
THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN $94,400 4,011 75.49% $23.54
VIOLET $283,182 5,879 100.12% $48.17
WICKED $2,769,554 17,352 100.00% $159.61
Totals: $35,365,319 327,321 93.11% $100.32

Broadway ticket sales raw data are provided courtesy of The Broadway League All other data, text, opinion, charts and commentary are copyright © 2014 nytix.com

“Of Mice and Men” Opens on Broadway

John Steinbeck’s 1937 play Of Mice and Men, based on his 1937 novella of the same name, is presently being revived on Broadway for the second time.  On April 16, 2014, Anna D. Shapiro’s production of this classic story of two displaced migrant workers during the Great Depression opened at the Longacre Theatre.  This production has received a great deal of press, primarily because it stars James Franco, the ever-increasingly famous (with bouts of infamy) multi-hyphenate actor, writer, director, producer, author, teacher, and poet.  He stars alongside Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester, both also stars of the screen making their Broadway debuts.  As such, it has been selling considerably well at the box office, averaging around 96% capacity with an average ticket price of $101.76.  Therefore, though the production received mixed to positive reviews following its opening, this is unlikely to sway ticket-buyers who are more drawn by the star factor of the face on the marquis than by promises of quality.


Ben Brantley of The New York Times is by far New York’s most influential Broadway theatre critic.  Producers flaunt positive quotes with his byline, and they live in fear of his negative responses to their shows.  In an era where people are reading fewer newspapers than ever before, New York City has become a one-paper town, where Brantley rules the theatre section.  James Franco, though new to the Broadway scene, has clearly picked up on the sensitivity of this one man’s opinion to his show’s fate, and in the fashion of any egomaniac on a quest for world domination, he decided to publicly flaunt his distaste for Brantley’s less than positive review.  Of course, Franco’s medium of choice for this proclamation was none other than Instagram.  (Lest we forget, this is the same place that Franco made an utter fool of himself two weeks ago for blatantly hitting on a Scottish 17 year-old whom he had met outside of the Of Mice and Men stage door.)  After Brantley published a critical review of Franco’s stage demeanor and level of acting effort, Franco posted to Instagram a link to the positive Variety review, then commenting that Brantley is a “little bitch” whom the theatre community hates for good reason, as he is an “idiot”.  Though he has since taken down this post, it only further illustrates Franco’s lack of grace and dangerously swollen ego.

Other reviewers were more positive in their reviews of the play.  Variety, Time Out New York, NBC, and the Hollywood Reporter all praised the revival and Ms. Shapiro’s direction.  The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, was more in line with Brantley.  Charles McNulty reviewed Franco as being in “CliffsNotes mode,” which is not surprising as he is flying to L.A. to teach a class on his one day off, while also working on his innumerable other projects, when most other Broadway stars would be focused on their stage performance.  Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for Franco’s success in merely dialing it in.  However, it is more likely that the greater world will continue to swoon for his celebrity, excusing his madness and even finding it endearing, and allowing him to take credit for wild success when his biggest achievement seems to be just showing up.  It is time we acknowledge that James Franco has become a brand.  We generally look for a soul in our Broadway performers, and it seems Franco’s has long been buried by his ever-growing success.

Of Mice and Men is scheduled to run until July 27, 2014.

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” Opens on Broadway

The Circle in the Square Theatre is one of Broadway’s more intimate venues, allowing the audience to get up close and personal with the performer in front of them.  In the case of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, which opened on April 13, 2014, the star is five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, and the personal story is that of the timeless and beloved jazz singer Billie Holiday.  According to the largely positive critical response, this play with music is an engaging and compelling piece, in which McDonald guides her crowd through the journey of Holiday’s life – both musical and personal.  The play is written by Lanie Robertson, directed by Lonny Price, and the music was arranged and orchestrated by Tim Weil.

ladyday2

The play was first produced at New York’s Off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre in 1986, and this is its Broadway premiere.  This bio-show recounts the songs that made Billie Holiday famous, as well as the tales that made her notorious.  Specifically, she was an alcoholic and heroin addict, who only found balance and solace through the deep bounty of her singing voice.  The fictional set-up is meant to recreate one of Holiday’s final performances, at a small, intimate bar in Philadelphia.  Fortunately, the Circle in the Square Theatre is able to recreate this venue better than many other Broadway houses might.  Still, The New York Times critiqued the show for its lack of believability, for Holiday often performed in a dark room with a spotlight so she could not see her own audience, and she would have never divulged such a personal tale as McDonald does in this portrayal.

This show follows in the tradition of biographical shows based off the lives of now deceased performers, delving into their tragedy as well as their timeless beauty.  For instance, End of the Rainbow, also a bio-play with music, ran on Broadway in the spring of 2012, with Tracie Bennett portraying Judy Garland with all her force and folly, including her timeless hits such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”  Furthermore, the spring of 2013 saw Nathan Lane playing the 1930s burlesque performer Chauncey in The Nance, exploring the ups and the downs of his life.  Time and again, producers rely on the familiarity of historical figures recreated by modern-day performers, banking on the double name recognition to move tickets.

Lady Day and Emerson’s Bar and Grill is just hanging on at the box office.  As it is only playing seven performances a week in a theatre with only 682 seats, the show already faces difficulty in competing with the other shows in terms of weekly grosses.  Even so, its weekly figures have been fairly low.  In the week ending April 13, 2014, the show grossed $366,156, which was only 58.73% of its gross potential.  This is about how well the show has been doing since it began previews.  It is scheduled to close on August 10, 2014.

Shubert Ticketing Passes ‘Plum Benefits’ Over To EBG’s ‘TicketsAtWork.com’

Plum Benefits is a leading corporate entertainment benefits provider that specializes in providing discounted attractions and events for company employees. Plum had a specific focus on Broadway shows in NYC, the stable from which it was born.  For the past three years, Plum has been owned and managed by Shubert Ticketing, a division of The Shubert Organization, which is also the majority landlord on Broadway, owning 17 of the 40 Broadway theatres.  After acquiring Plum Benefits (Formerly SVM Marketing) from its founder Shara Mendelson in 2011 for a reported $2 Million in cash, the Shuberts have continued to run the company, apparently profitably.  As of April 2, 2014, they have announced a merger with TicketsAtWork.com, which is a similar business owned by Entertainment Benefits Group (EBG).  Although it is technically a legal “merger,” the resultant business appears to be more of a takeover as the new entity is largely managed by EBG and key Plum employees are now employees of EBG. Oversight of the Plum Benefits brand is passed from Shubert Ticketing to another Shubert sub-division, “Broadway Inbound.”

Plum Benefits Merges with EBG Entertainment Benefits Group

The difference between EBG’s Tickets-At-Work and Plum Benefits is that while Plum is based in the New York City area and specializes in promoting Broadway shows to Fortune 500 employers, Tickets-At-Work has a wider reach geographically and has a vast roster of major entertainment companies including hotels, flights and travel. In addition, Plum Benefits has until now been using a link-off site transaction process, requiring users to purchase tickets outside of their platform, whereas, Tickets-At-Work uses an internal transaction process, offering a proprietary ticketing technology developed by EBG that allows customers to buy tickets within their website. The Shubert’s, who have traditionally been very slow to adopt new technology and practices, have surprisingly provided a competitive advantage to EBG in terms of allowing Tickets-At-Work to engage in end-to-end transactional ticket sales with Shubert’s own back end data from Telecharge. Tickets-At-Work has the unique and enviable position of no longer needing to use discount codes and are able to circumvent broadwayoffers.com completely, the traditional website that all other market players have been forced to use for online discount Broadway tickets.  It’s unclear if the Shuberts are just testing the waters with Tickets-At-Work and plan to roll out the ticket sales API to other Broadway ticket vendors or whether they intend to keep this advantage for their own use. It’s also unclear how Broadway show producers feel about Plum and EBG’s Tickets-At-Work having this logistical advantage over all the other players in the Broadway ticket market, especially given EBG and Tickets-At-Work are outside the normal Broadway ticket sales channels.

The new website for Plum Benefits looks largely identical to the existing Tickets-At-Work website, not only in terms of structure but also design, but now Plum clients are pitched a dizzying array of other products and services.

Plum Benefits is now called “Plum Benefits, powered by TicketsAtWork,”, but the IP address for the new PlumBenefits.com website is actually owned by EBG, further underlying the appearance of who has the power in this relationship.  Despite the duplicate layout, the differences in the companies’ specialties are clear by the activities that are advertised on each of their sections on the home pages: presently, Plum Benefits’ site advertises Aladdin the musical, as well as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Cripple of Inishmaan starring Daniel Radcliffe, and the jukebox 80′s musical Rock of Ages.  On the other hand, the Tickets-At-Work site promotes Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Cirque du Soleil, and the recently much maligned, Sea World.

Plumbenefits, now part of the EBG Group including TicketsAtWork

Plum Benefits, now part of the EBG Entertainment Benefits Group that includes TicketsAtWork

The business model for Plum Benefits’ had thrived for many years under Shara Mendelson’s iron-fist rule principally because it was a free service exclusively for employer corporations and organizations, which is especially attractive as employers have been cutting back on “fringe” benefits in recent years, Adding voluntary benefits made up for the void.  Plum’s revenue comes from fees paid by the producers of the entertainment events, so corporate members incur zero cost while producers pay for the promotional benefits of the service.  Therefore, it is surprising that the Shuberts would decide to share ownership of this cash-cow so soon after acquiring it themselves.  Fortunately for them, the agreement provides that they retain rights to the name and trademark of Plum Benefits, and presumably take a fee from all transactions, though EBG conducts the business on their behalf. At the ground level, they are erasing many roles within their organization, removing what they may have considered to be role redundancies. EBG reports that the remaining Plum Benefits staff who manage the corporate clients are now employees of EBG. It is unclear whether the former Plum organization was failing to make sufficient profits, or whether there were some other logistical reasons for this merger/takeover decision.

In any case, existing Plum Benefits customers can now enjoy an expanded roster of entertainment options, as well as a streamlined booking process.  With a 19 hours a day, 365 days a year, dedicated customer service team and the seamless back-end ticketing technology that the Shubert’s have allowed EBG to implement on their behalf, the Tickets-At-Work merger appears to be a step forward from the consumer perspective.

Plum Benefits’ existing corporate client roster may, however, balk at the multitude of new choices that their employees now have access to, through the new relationship. HR departments are already very wary of being aligned with this new service, as their approval may be taken by employees and management as the HR department encouraging and approving of “shopping at work”, something that corporate management is keen to avoid. HR employees are very concerned about being seen as providing benefits and value, but not distractions, for their employees at work. The new Plum Benefits’ site does not provide a method to switch-off the multitude of offers and employees are force-fed all these offers from the new partnership, often against their will. What is missing from this model is the HR manager’s desire, and discretion, to pick and choose what types of offers they want to provide to their employees and which ones they do not, which may mean many Corporations may jump ship to other solutions such as “Corporate Perks” by Nextjump or “Corporate Offers” which are more tuned to the HR division’s needs.

With EBG and “Tickets At Work” being primarily based in Aventura, Florida, it is clear that the bulk of the offers will no longer be focused on New York City and certainly not on Broadway shows. Plum will inevitably see a dilution of interest in Broadway show attractions, but an increase in overall income from its commissions from the other entertainment sales in this joint venture. Broadway shows expect that their overall ticket sales will go down for Plum, even though the merger with TAW opens up their product to a lot more people, most of them aren’t in the NYC area, so any ticket sales will be “Visitor” sales, something that the Broadway producer was able to sell full-price tickets to in the past, and now are stuck selling at a discount, even though they didn’t ask for one.

Plum Benefits has opened up their corporate client base to peruse hundreds of other competing entertainment offers, something that does not seem wholly appropriate given that Shubert’s mission statement is to help develop Broadway Theatre, but instead have sold them out for cash, or at least a commission on the sale.

Charles Flateman, VP Marketing for Shubert Ticketing and Board Member of the newly combined organization and Brett Reizen, EBG President and CEO did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Broadway Show Ticket Sales Analysis w/e 4/13/2014

This week’s notable movements on Broadway are:

THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN
This past week, The Cripple of Inishmaan began previews at the Cort Theatre starring Daniel Radcliffe.  With only two performances underway, it is difficult to estimate the success of advance ticket sales for this show, but its early figures look promising.  The show grossed $155,234 over two performances, averaging 99.4% capacity with an average paid admission of $72.78.  Though this ticket price is fairly low, presumably due to discounting as well as complimentary tickets for the creative team, the play still made 94.75% of its gross potential.  Clearly the star power of Daniel Radcliffe has a lot to do with these high numbers, especially in light of the fact that a revival of an Irish dark comedy may not otherwise do so well.  This is a transfer from a West End revival of the show, also starring Daniel Radcliffe.

REVIEWS DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Two straight plays that opened last week to positive reviews saw a significant increase in ticket sales.  A Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington was already faring quite well, selling out during previews.  The play even grossed over one million dollars for two weeks in a row during previews, a significant coup for a straight play.  However, in the week leading up to the show’s opening, the weekly gross fell to $929,151.  Fortunately, after the play opened on April 3rd to laudatory notices, audiences responded with ticket purchases, as this past week the play had its highest weekly gross yet: $1,182,511.
More notably, The Realistic Joneses also saw a stark increase in sales following its opening.  The reason this increase is more notable than that of A Raisin in the Sun is because the play is written by Will Eno, a playwright only theatre die-hards would know, and it stars famous actors who are not nearly as famous as Denzel Washington.  Though this play grossed less than half as much as Raisin, it still saw a steep increase of $107,825 from the previous week.  After the play opened on April 6th, The New York Times declared it a Critics’ Pick, and many other reviewers responded strongly as well.  Therefore, these figures show how theatregoers indeed respond to published praise, which is good news for producers who rely on critical support to demonstrate the merits of their shows without recognizable names to boost the box office.

The following are the Broadway ticket sales numbers for the week ending April 13, 2014:

Broadway Show Ticket Sales Analysis 4-13-14

Show GrossGross Total Attn %Cap AvgPdAdm
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER $407,665 5,122 70.59% $79.59
A RAISIN IN THE SUN $1,182,511 8,368 100.00% $141.31
ACT ONE $309,452 6,316 72.83% $48.99
AFTER MIDNIGHT $417,318 5,568 67.18% $74.95
ALADDIN $1,178,422 13,786 100.01% $85.48
ALL THE WAY $893,167 8,206 72.13% $108.84
BEAUTIFUL $917,392 7,669 93.43% $119.62
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY $813,145 11,221 86.05% $72.47
CABARET $667,721 6,823 96.59% $97.86
CASA VALENTINA $192,074 4,047 78.55% $47.46
CHICAGO $607,106 7,070 81.83% $85.87
CINDERELLA $946,408 11,425 81.56% $82.84
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH $884,092 7,048 100.59% $125.44
IF/THEN $964,759 9,295 88.63% $103.79
JERSEY BOYS $665,420 6,741 68.62% $98.71
KINKY BOOTS $1,422,291 10,769 94.53% $132.07
LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL $366,156 4,639 97.17% $78.93
LES MISÉRABLES $1,147,961 10,126 89.83% $113.37
MAMMA MIA! $627,337 7,442 79.78% $84.30
MATILDA $1,174,694 11,368 99.23% $103.33
MOTHERS AND SONS $238,128 3,412 53.18% $69.79
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL $1,067,046 10,425 86.47% $102.35
NEWSIES $744,353 8,701 91.78% $85.55
OF MICE AND MEN $796,078 8,321 96.94% $95.67
ONCE $473,697 5,333 62.95% $88.82
PIPPIN $630,280 6,307 79.63% $99.93
ROCK OF AGES $347,060 4,227 90.63% $82.11
ROCKY $754,394 8,773 72.34% $85.99
THE BOOK OF MORMON $1,586,091 8,752 102.63% $181.23
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY $322,366 4,424 54.27% $72.87
THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN $155,234 2,133 99.39% $72.78
THE LION KING $1,914,937 13,602 100.01% $140.78
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA $958,388 11,535 89.84% $83.09
THE REALISTIC JONESES $518,159 5,935 85.08% $87.31
THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN $100,056 3,074 50.63% $32.55
VIOLET $258,167 5,080 86.51% $50.82
WICKED $1,930,362 15,275 99.03% $126.37
Totals: $28,579,879 288,358 84.34% $93.06

Broadway ticket sales raw data are provided courtesy of The Broadway League All other data, text, opinion, charts and commentary are copyright © 2014 nytix.com

‘The Realistic Joneses’ Opens on Broadway

It’s not an easy time for a new play to thrive on Broadway.  The Realistic Joneses, which opened on April 6, 2014 to largely positive reviews, is still struggling to stay afloat at the box office.  This is the Broadway debut for playwright Will Eno, who is known for his less accessible but equally quirky Off-Broadway works such as Thom Pain (based on nothing) and Middletown.  The play premiered in May 2012 at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.  Both the regional and Broadway productions are directed by Sam Gold, whose remarkable career rise has confirmed him as the go-to director for adventurous new plays, especially those that feature a casual, realistic writing style.  Of the four actors in the cast, only one has remained for the transfer – Tracy Letts, who is the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of August: Osage County as well as the Tony Award winning actor from last year’s revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The Realistic Joneses on Broadway

The Realistic Joneses on Broadway

The other three roles are played by Toni Collette, who has been on Broadway once before in The Wild Party, Michael C. Hall, who has played Broadway musical leads in both Cabaret and Chicago, and Marisa Tomei, who has previously appeared in three Broadway plays: Top Girls, Salome, and Wait Until Dark.  Though all three actors are much better known for their film work, these names are by no means box office gold of the likes of Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe, or James Franco, who are presently competing for audience attention on Broadway, also in straight plays.  Whereas musicals can often survive on Broadway without Hollywood stars, especially if they feature a familiar title, plays rarely enter the greater national consciousness without a special boost.

Although The New York Times critic Charles Isherwood gave the play an unqualified rave, marking it as a Critics’ Pick, the box office was actually worse for this past week than the one preceding it.  For the week ending in April 6, 2014, gross ticket sales were $410,334, down $51,902 from the previous week.  However, it must be noted that the week leading up to a show’s opening includes numerous performances designated as “press performances,” for which complimentary tickets are offered to critics from a wide array of publications.  This would partly explain the lower gross, especially in light of the fact that the average ticket price also went down that week to $67.88 from $82.62 the week before.

The play is scheduled to run until July 6, 2014.  Its producers, Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel, often take gambles with shows that are not guaranteed slam dunks.  In this same season, they also are producing All the Way, a new play but with the box office support of its star Bryan Cranston, The Bridges of Madison County, a musical with a familiar title that is struggling to stay alive, and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, which features Broadway favorite Audra McDonald as the timeless favorite Billie Holiday.  Though The Realistic Joneses may be this producing team’s most risky show on Broadway right now, they have made a habit of mounting shows by recognized playwrights, which may or may not have stars.  In any case, it is to their credit that they manage to support new writing in a climate where few dare to take such ventures, seeking to overcome the bias against plays without megastars.

A Rise in Thursday Matinees On Broadway

The traditional Broadway show week includes eight performances, typically with evening shows on Tuesday through Saturday, and matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.  For actors and crew, this means Monday off and a double show day on Wednesdays, or in cases with a Sunday evening show, this requires them to play for a five performance weekend.  However, Wednesday matinees have traditionally slow sales, and five performances over one weekend can be a lot for actors.  Therefore, producers have begun experimenting with changes to this performance calendar.  The most extreme change that several shows have begun instigating is a matinee on Thursday afternoon.Broadway thursday matinee show

In recent weeks, three musicals have begun to offer shows on Thursday afternoons: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Mamma Mia!, and The Phantom of the OperaMatilda the Musical is reportedly also considering such a change.  In order to stick to Actor’s Equity rules of no more than an eight performance week (although sometimes they make exception for holiday periods, allowing nine performances in a week), the producers of each show have needed to alter the overall weekly schedule, and each show has done so differently.

Cinderella has opted to keep their Wednesday matinee in adding on a Thursday matinee, instead removing Tuesday evening performances.  As this musical caters to children, especially young girls, it makes sense that weekdays would be preferable to weekday evenings, as tourists on week-long vacations will be able to take advantage during the daytimes.  Mamma Mia!, on the other hand, has opted to remove their Wednesday matinee in adding on a Thursday matinee, and furthermore they offer a Monday 8:00pm performance in place of a Sunday matinee.  More of a date night fare, this show therefore offers 8:00pm showings every night except Sunday, with matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays.  Phantom of the Opera has chosen to do something very similar, with matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays, except that on Tuesdays their curtain is at 7:00pm.

A 7:00pm curtain has also begun to appear more and more frequently in recent years, which allows theatregoers to attend a late dinner after shorter shows, or instead to eat a very early dinner and get home earlier.  This decision to vary evening curtain times allows for the fact that theatregoers have differing schedules, avoiding the chance that someone will decide not to attend a show just because the hour at which it begins or ends does not work with their work or home schedules.

This addition of a Thursday matinee will be an interesting trend to watch.  It will allow theatre-loving tourists to cram more shows into a week if they happen to be in town for just a few weekdays.  Furthermore, if it is more successful than the Wednesday matinee has been, then it will show that people tend to have more flexible schedules later in the week.  In any case, this demonstrates that producers are trying to keep on top of changing trends and stay relevant to their audience community.

MTV and MLB hope for a home run with Off the Bat from the MLB Fan Cave

As part of their 2014 spring lineup, MTV2 introduced a brand new baseball meets pop culture TV series, Off the Bat from the MLB Fan Cave, which enjoyed its season one opener on Tuesday, April 1 at 11:00 PM EST.  The premiere perfectly coincided with the start of Major League Baseball season, which got into full swing the day before.  This pitch-perfect timing is no mere coincidence.  The show is the first-born creative brainchild of the MLB and MTV, who announced their multi-year multi-platform partnership last November.

mlb-fan-cave - Off the bat TV Show

The weekly, 30-minute show is filmed in-studio from the popular MLB Fan Cave nestled on East 4th Street near NYU in New York City and on location throughout the country.  Four dynamic MTV personalities signed up to play host, and ball, including rapper and news reporter, Sway, hip-hop artist, Fat Joe, and two stars of MTV’s Guy Code, model and actress, Melanie Iglesias, and her high-energy comedic cohort, Chris Distefano.

This latest addition to the burgeoning genre of “sports culture” programming moves away from talking head over-analysis and stat streams per usual, and affords viewers a more off the cuff, off the field, sneak peek into the hearts, minds and personal lives of up-and-coming baseball greats and veteran heroes.  Players will engage in banterous in-studio interviews with the emcees, pal around with visiting celebrities, host in-house contests and musical guests, interact on social media with fans, film on location at their favorite hometown haunts and act as the instigators, participants and butts of practical jokes and locker room pranks.

mlb-fan-cave - Off the bat TV Show

Bryce Harper, the young, handsome and sometimes divisively aggressive Washington Nationals outfielder, christened the show’s debut with an in-studio appearance and trivia contest in which he had fans sit in barbers chairs and either correctly answer questions about his career or get their heads shaven.  In another segment, petite beauty, Melanie Iglesias, invited hunky Miami Marlins power hitter, Giancarlo Stanton, to an old car junkyard for an unconventional windshield-shattering batting practice.  A third bit had comedian Distefano visiting retirees in order to glean pearls of wisdom about retirement for Derek Jeter, who just began his last ever season as revered Yankees shortstop.

The MLB is optimistic that this good-natured and slightly goofy show will serve to recruit a new generation of baseball fans from MTV2’s mostly male viewing demographic, aged 12 to 34, who are devotedly loyal to the network’s smash hit, Guy Code, the very show from which two of Off the Bats hosts were procured.

Guy Code broke network records in 2013 with its season three premiere garnering an impressive .6 Nielsen rating and earning the title of “most-watched original series” in MTV2’s 18 years on air.  MLB and MTV are hoping that Off the Bat, which copies some of the Codes successful formula of uniting ordinary guys with pop culture icons and pro athletes, will enjoy the same measure of success.

MTV2, part of the MTV Networks under the care of parent company, Viacom, is currently available in more than 80 million U.S. homes.

The show, executive produced by three-time World Series champion and Red Sox designated slugger extraordinaire, David Ortiz, is on pre-order for 30 episodes, which are all scheduled to air in the same Tuesday night 11 PM Eastern standard time slot on MTV2.

“The Velocity of Autumn” Begins Previews

On April 1, 2014, previews began for The Velocity of Autumn, a new play by Eric Coble that also played in the fall of 2013 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.  The Broadway transfer was originally announced for last spring, but a lack of theatre availability necessitated the delay.  The play has now found a home at the intimate 780 seat Booth Theatre, one of the smallest houses on Broadway, which will allow the subtle performances to resonate with the audience.  The two-hander stars Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella, who both received strong notices from the Washington D.C. production.  Molly Smith, the artistic director of Arena Stage, serves as the director for the play.

Estelle Parsons, lively and witty at age 86, plays 79 year-old Alexandra, who barricades herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with explosives in response to her children’s plea that she leave her home.  When her estranged yet beloved son Christopher (Stephen Spinella) climbs a tree and hops in her window, they are forced to confront the issues at the heart of their family dilemma, as well as what it means to get older.  According to reviews from the Arena Stage production, the play is not as strong as the performances, but the slightly contrived set-up evolves into a touching story as the two actors brilliantly portray their characters.

Stephen Spinella won an Obie Award last year for his moving performance in the New York Theatre Workshop production of An Iliad, and he also appeared in the Public Theater’s 2011 production of Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures.  In addition, Spinella has won two Tony Awards for his role in Kushner’s Angels in America.  Estelle Parsons has been nominated for four Tony Awards, stemming back to her first nomination in 1968 for The Seven Descents of Myrtle, and she has recently appeared on Broadway in Nice Work if You Can Get It, August: Osage County, and Good People.  Furthermore, she won an Academy Award in 1967 for her role as Blanche in Bonnie and Clyde.

The Velocity of Autumn is produced by Larry Kaye of Hop Theatricals, in addition to Van Dean of the Broadway Consortium.  As for the creative team, scenic design is by Eugene Lee, costume design is by Linda Cho, lighting design is by Howell Binkley, and sound design is by Darron L. West.  The play has had several pre-Broadway runs, with its premiere at the Boise Contemporary Theater in Idaho in April 2011, and then a follow-up April 2012 production at Cleveland’s Beck Center for the Arts in Ohio, prior to the Washington D.C. run.  The capitalization amount of the Broadway production is reported to be $2.5 million, which is fairly low for a play due to its small cast.  Though this play may still have a tough time earning profits without top Hollywood names or a recognizable title, the producers may be gearing for Tony Award nominations for its actors, both of whom are awards favorites and were praised by critics for the Arena Stage production.