Production Stuck to Original Plan of Returning to Broadway
When Motown the Musical concluded its original Broadway run on January 18, 2015, it was announced that a national tour would take place, followed by a return Broadway engagement. To their credit, they kept to their word. On July 12, 2016, Motown had a simultaneous start of performances and official opening for their return engagement. However, just as the new set of reviews was being published, the producers announced that the final performance for Motown on Broadway would be July 31, 2016, less than three weeks after opening. The original plan was for the Broadway return run to last 18 weeks. However, poor ticket sales led the producers to reconsider the sustainability of that plan, and the decision was made to close abruptly. This is not to say that Motown is a failure; in fact, it is far from it. The original production exceeded expectations; despite mediocre reviews and middling awards response, the show ran for almost two years, and recouped its initial capitalization of $18 million before concluding the original Broadway run. After a sold-out national tour, and launching a promising production in London, Motown made the purely business decision that the losses to be incurred in this new Broadway run would not be worth it.
Despite the premature closing, the critics were prepared to praise this new production of Motown, which was leaner and featured a new cast compared to the show seen on Broadway in 2013 and 2014. Furthermore, the issues evoked in the show were declared to have a new resonance, given the focus in the press and media regarding racial issues and police brutality. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times remarked that the first act climax provides a jolt of emotional currency, in addition to the pervasive feeling of nostalgia. Although he does not believe this saves the show from being merely a sparkling and enjoyable treat, with some plot and structural issues, the return to Broadway was commended for evoking a new sensation, beyond the songbook revelry. The Hollywood Reporter also referenced the social unrest of the 1960s reflected in dramatic urgency, particularly in the second act. Nevertheless, the critics did not back down from their general assessment of the show’s inadequacies. Still, the real reason for the early closure was not poor reviews, but insufficient ticket sales.
A Low Weekly Gross Was Enough to Say Good Riddance
With only one full week of ticket grosses reported, the producers decided that Motown had seen enough of the lights of Broadway. In the first week of this new production, the week ending July 17, 2016, the show brought in a weekly gross of $424,198, which represents 36.61% of the show’s gross potential. It is apparent that the advance ticket sales were also nowhere near the levels that the producers needed them to be in order to justify keeping the production open for 18 weeks as planned. It was an interesting experiment for the original production of Motown to close and embark on a national tour before the ticket sales had started slagging, with the promise of returning. However, the momentum of a show on Broadway cannot be underestimated, and in this case, the producers of Motown have provided an interesting case study on whether momentum can be taken on national tour and back again. In this case, at least, we have learned that it cannot.
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