James Franco in ‘Of Mice and Men’ Begins Previews

Of Mice and Men with James Franco and Chris O'DowdFor the first time in 40 years, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men will hit the Broadway stage this evening: Wednesday, March 19, 2014.  Adapted by Steinbeck from his novella of the same name, this play first premiered on Broadway in 1937, after which it was chosen as Best Play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.  In addition to a short-lived run from 1974 to 1975, this is the play’s second Broadway revival.  The new production, directed by Anna D. Shapiro (The Motherf**ker with the Hat, August: Osage County), is playing at the Longacre Theatre on West 48th Street.

This production is unique in that the cast is led by three young Hollywood stars making their Broadway debuts.  James Franco, the multi-talented actor, director, screenwriter, producer, teacher, and author (Freaks and Geeks, James Dean, Oz the Great and Powerful, Spring Breakers), stars as George, and Chris O’Dowd, known for the film Bridesmaids as well as the HBO / BBC series Family Tree, plays opposite Franco as his friend Lennie.  Furthermore, Leighton Meester, who rose to fame by starring as Blair Waldorf on the CW’s Gossip Girl, plays Curley’s wife. The cast is rounded out by Tony Award winner Jim Norton as Candy, Ron Cephas Jones as Crooks, Alex Morf as Curley, Joel Marsh Garland as Carlson, James McMenamin as Whit, Jim Ortlieb as the Boss, and Jim Parrack as Slim.

Of Mice and Men is the story of two migrant field workers in California during the Great Depression, holding onto their dream of becoming landowners one day.  However, they encounter a menacing situation, confronted by the Boss’ small-statured son Curley and his flirtatious wife.  When Candy, an older one-armed ranch hand, offers to pitch in for the land in exchange for living on it, they think their future is set, but the tragic bonds of friendship interfere, and they fail to achieve the elusive American dream.

Though the novella is often featured as required reading in many school curricula, it has also been the frequent target of censorship due to accusations of vulgarity.  The book has also been adapted to the screen several times, in 1939, 1981, and 1992.  The first film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Musical Score, and Best Sound Recording.

The present production is lead produced by David Binder, with scenic design by Tony Award winner Todd Rosenthal (August: Osage County), costume design by Suttirat Larlarb, sound design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, and lighting design by Japhy Weideman.

John Patrick Shanley’s “Outside Mullingar” Closes

Outside Mullingar, the newest play by Pulitzer Prize winner John Patrick Shanley, has concluded its run on Broadway.  The Manhattan Theatre Club produced this Irish romantic comedy at its Broadway house, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street.  Outside-MullingarDirected by Doug Hughes, the play began previews on January 3, 2014 and officially opened on January 23, 2014, playing its final performance on Sunday, March 16, 2014.  The play starred Debra Messing (Will & Grace) in her Broadway debut, alongside Brían F. O’Byrne (Doubt, The Coast of Utopia), Dearbhla Molloy (A Touch of the Poet, Dancing at Lughnasa), and Peter Maloney (West Side Story).

The play was a New York Times Critics’ Pick, with critic Charles Isherwood calling it “Mr. Shanley’s finest work since Doubt,” which won both the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize in 2005, and which was adapted into a feature film, also penned by Shanley, in 2008.  Taking place in the Midlands of Ireland in contemporary times, Outside Mullingar tells the story of an Irish father named Tony (Maloney), his terminally shy son Anthony (O’Byrne), and their neighbor Rosemary (Messing) who watches the years go by as she harbors a romantic devotion to Anthony.  Despite a land feud between their families, and Tony threatening to disinherit Anthony, the lovers fight their way toward some kind of stability and hope for the future.

Critics were largely supportive of this production, with The New York Times, Hollywood Reporter, and NBC all giving it raves.  Entertainment Weekly, on the other hand, called it “sweet but peculiar” and Newsday deemed it a “95-minute oddity.”  In any case, this world premiere by such a beloved playwright did fairly well in terms of attracting an audience, finishing off its run with average capacity well above 90 percent.  Though it averaged only around 50 percent in terms of reaching its gross potential, this is largely due to the Manhattan Theatre Club’s large subscription audience, who benefit from discount tickets through buying the season in bulk.  Fortunately, as this is a Broadway production mounted by a not-for-profit theatre institution, the play did not need to rely on full recoupment of its capitalization in order to deem the production a financial success.

Broadway Show Ticket Sales Analysis w/e 3/16/2014

This weeks notable movements on Broadway are:

MILLIONAIRES CLUB
With total Broadway ticket sales revenue up to $24.4 million from last weeks $21.2 million, this week sees that seven Broadway shows are now in the millionaires club. This includes Kinky Boots, Les Miserables, Matilda, Motown, Book Of Mormon, Lion King and Wicked. Les Miserables shines as the seventh top grossing show overall and it has only just opened in previews.

THE WICKEDLY TALENTED INDINA MENZEL IN IF/THEN
If/Then begins its run in previews with strong sales.  With almost a million ($) dollars in gross Broadway ticket sales, If/Then has made it to the top ten in our Broadway Show Ticket Analysis Chart (see below). The ‘wickedly talented’ Idina Menzel (not Adele Dazeem) seems to be the drive of this new Broadway show which is directly reflected from the average ticket price of $105.65 and a 98.55% capacity.

AFTER MIDNIGHT
With a rotating list of celebrity singers as the big draw for this show, the critically acclaimed After Midnight suffered greatly last week by being stuck in the no-mans-land between the end of KD Lang and start of Toni Braxton stints on the show. It’s unclear who actually sang in that role last week, but the numbers show that how the lack of celebrity draw can impact the sales numbers massively. The average paid admission sale crashed from $96.44 to $68.39, demonstrating that the celeb headliner can make a huge difference in sales. Ironically, the capacity for After Midnight remained the same indicating that the show discounted heavily and may have papered the theatre to get the audience in. It will be interesting to see how the show recovers this week when Toni Braxton makes her debut and whether or not the gap-drop in sales can mess with overall shows ticket sales momentum or if its just a passing phase. The show plans to rotate in Toni Braxton, KD Lang, Fantasia Barrino, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Dule Hill and Adriane Lenox. All of which will provide some fascinating takes on sales data as it may just end up being a popularity contest with all things equal.

The following are the Broadway ticket sales numbers for the week ending March 16, 2014:

Broadway Show Ticket Sales Analysis 03-16-14

Show GrossGross Total Attn %Cap AvgPdAdm
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER $432,707 5,557 76.58% $77.87
A RAISIN IN THE SUN $981,488 7,322 100.00% $134.05
AFTER MIDNIGHT $381,020 5,571 67.22% $68.39
ALADDIN $893,595 12,035 99.96% $74.25
ALL THE WAY $887,748 9,118 80.15% $97.36
BEAUTIFUL $891,835 7,658 93.30% $116.46
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY $655,710 9,050 92.54% $72.45
CHICAGO $523,155 6,756 78.19% $77.44
CINDERELLA $910,028 11,127 79.43% $81.79
IF/THEN $929,267 8,796 98.55% $105.65
JERSEY BOYS $684,421 7,200 73.29% $95.06
KINKY BOOTS $1,330,377 10,267 90.12% $129.58
LES MISÉRABLES $1,043,262 9,397 95.41% $111.02
MAMMA MIA! $538,966 6,500 69.68% $82.92
MATILDA $1,105,243 11,451 99.96% $96.52
MOTHERS AND SONS $222,265 4,278 66.68% $51.96
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL $1,084,613 10,745 89.13% $100.94
NEWSIES $792,166 9,114 96.14% $86.92
NO MAN’S LAND/WAITING FOR GODOT $589,820 7,030 81.90% $83.90
ONCE $556,921 6,297 74.33% $88.44
OUTSIDE MULLINGAR $423,934 5,079 97.67% $83.47
PIPPIN $699,835 7,087 89.48% $98.75
ROCK OF AGES $353,712 4,310 92.41% $82.07
ROCKY $639,757 10,182 83.08% $62.83
THE BOOK OF MORMON $1,659,020 8,752 102.63% $189.56
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY $476,374 6,418 78.73% $74.22
THE LION KING $1,733,679 13,598 99.99% $127.50
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA $929,682 11,214 87.34% $82.90
THE REALISTIC JONESES $253,222 2,841 81.45% $89.13
WICKED $1,861,649 14,686 97.49% $126.76
Totals: $24,465,468 249,436 87.09% $95.00

Superheroes Land in New York as TV Pilots Break Records

TV Show Production

Since taking the helm as New York State Governor in 2011, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has applied aggressive out-of-the-box creative thinking to the reformation and revitalization of the state’s beleaguered economic infrastructure.  In a heroic effort to sever sole financial reliance on the vilified Wall Street alliance, Cuomo has turned starry eyes to the entertainment industry for fiscal rescue, instead.  In order to attract and entice out of-state TV and Film production companies to make magic in the metropolis of NY, Governor Cuomo set the bait with virtually impossible-to-refuse tax breaks and incentives.

And he may have just pulled off a heroic coup.  Only a few short weeks ago, the governor proudly announced that mega entertainment moguls Walt Disney and Marvel Entertainment have agreed to film four exciting new live-action TV series this coming summer, right here on the nitty, gritty streets of New York City.   A projected 60 episodes will feature the four most popular superheroes from Marvel Comic’s beloved Defender series and will air on Netflix starting in 2015.

This $200 million dollar venture, which the governor’s office deems “the largest film or television production project commitment in New York State history,” is expected to infuse millions of dollars into the local and state economy, generate thousands of full and part-time industry and non-industry related jobs and provide a substantial boost to New York’s hospitality and tourism industries.  To put it this way, even the pizza delivery guy wins out.

And as if this wasn’t reason enough to celebrate, New York had already surpassed L.A. this year in the number of new TV pilots filmed on location, with a grand total of 15 (including 10 dramas and 5 comedies) compared to L.A.’s current handful.

As some Californians quake in the revelation that L.A. is no longer the end all, be all bedrock of TV and film, fingers and tongues have wagged at both coasts of the country.  Some folks have accusingly called Governor Cuomo’s tax breaks pathetic lures and Hollywood handouts, while yet others have bemoaned and criticized California Governor Jerry Brown’s resistance to taking the same innovative initiative and incentivize.

New York may be becoming Hollywood East instead of an entertainment epicenter in its own right, but Cuomo doesn’t seem to mind.

And what of The Tonight Show’s recent relocation from Burbank, CA to its swanky new studio at the infamous 30 Rock in NYC?  Well, while the new contract did include a hefty $20+ million tax break for NBC, which could not have hurt in the final decision making process, it might also pay to remember that the show actually originated in the heart of the city in the 1950’s, pre-Johnny Carson.  The move also makes sense for its new host, Jimmy Fallon, a devoted NY-native who has said he would feel “out of place” in L.A.  Hey, if he’s happy, we are likely to be happy, too.

And I bet if you asked Marvel Comics hero Daredevil how he feels about filming in New York, he’d remind you that he is Hell’s Kitchen born and raised.

Rocky Opens at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre

Rocky, a new musical based on the 1976 film of the same name, had its official opening last night on Broadway.  With an original score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on This Island, Anastasia), and a libretto by Thomas Meehan (The Producers, Hairspray, Annie) in collaboration with Sylvester Stallone, Rocky is directed by Alex Timbers (Here Lies Love, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher). 

rocky the musical on BroadwayProduced by the international theatre powerhouse Stage Entertainment, Rocky premiered in Hamburg, Germany in 2012 in a German language production, where it is still running today.  In its newly translated English version, the Broadway production now occupies the Winter Garden Theatre, where Mamma Mia! played from 2001 to 2013 (Mamma Mia! is now continuing its run at the Broadhurst Theatre).

When the film came out in 1976, Sylvester Stallone was relatively unknown.  After writing the script and starring as the fictional boxing hero Rocky Balboa, Stallone launched to fame, and went on to write, star, and also direct four subsequent sequels.  (The first film as well as Rocky V were directed by John G. Avildsen.)  The original Rocky, which was made on the shoestring budget of under $1 million, became the highest grossing film of 1976, and the franchise has since earned over $1.1 billion worldwide.  Sylvester Stallone is also the second billed producer after Stage Entertainment of Rocky the Musical, which has a production budget of approximately $15 million.  Because of its successful run in Hamburg, whose budget of $20 million included development expenses, Rocky the Musical was able to avoid an American pre-Broadway tryout and economize for a lean Broadway budget.

Starring Andy Karl as Rocky, Margo Seibert as Adrian, Terence Archie as Apollo Creed, Dakin Matthews as Mickey, and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Paulie, this musical is not relying on A-list Hollywood stars to sell its tickets, a luxury generally reserved for musicals rather than plays.  The director Alex Timbers, who is only 35 years old, is often referred to as the “boy genius” of theatre, as his whirlwind career thus far includes two Tony Award nominations and four Broadway directing credits, including Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson for which he also wrote the book.  As for his writing, Timbers is known for a quirky and often irreverent style, but for Rocky which he only directs, his skills are most visible in terms of the magic of technical design employed onstage, especially in the adrenaline-charged closing number bolstered by the choreography of Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine.

In fact, Ben Brantley of The New York Times praised this closing number and little else, going as far as to claim the show doesn’t even begin until over 2 hours after its curtain time.  Reviewers were generally mixed – Entertainment Weekly and The New York Post gave it raves, but the Hollywood Reporter called its score “unmemorable” and AM New York made fun of how its musicality undermined the serious story at its core.  Still, the success of the show’s last 15 minutes was basically unanimous, and critics also largely agreed that Alex Timbers’ direction was innovative, the technical elements were unique, and the emotional impact of the classic underdog story was indestructible.

In terms of box office sales, the show has not been knocking it out of the park.  In the last week of previews, the average discount ticket price was a low $66.29, though premium seats were sold for as high as $248.00, reaching only 43.65 percent of its gross potential.  Still, national awareness has just been augmented by wide press coverage, and the brand power of this movie franchise will most likely overshadow any ambivalence in critical praise.  In any case, it is undoubtedly one of the more buzz-generating Broadway shows opening this season, and we may expect to see these numbers increase in the coming weeks.

Nick Lachey Becomes New Host of VH1′s Big Morning Buzz

VH1’s first ever morning show has a new host and it’s all happening in NYC.  Nick Lachey, who burst onto the scene in the mid-nineties as the lead singer of the boy band 98 Degrees, began his stint as host of VH1’s Big Morning Buzz on March 3, 2014.

Nick Lachey on VH1 Big Morning Buzz

Since 98 Degrees broke up in 2003, Nick solidified his household-name status by co-starring with his then-wife Jessica Simpson on the early celebrity reality show Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, and he also launched his solo career in 2003, with his most successful single to date being the 2006 hit song “What’s Left of Me” from the album of the same name.  98 Degrees, which has sold over 10 million records, reunited in 2012 after a 9-year hiatus, releasing an album called 2.0 and embarking on a sold-out U.S. tour in summer 2013 along with the bands Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block.

In taking the lead at Big Morning Buzz, Lachey succeeds the show’s original host Carrie Keagan, who led the show for 400 live episodes.  Keagan announced her departure 10 days after airing her last show on December 20, 2013.  For now, Lachey is only committed for the spring season, but that has the possibility of being extended.  This is not the first time Lachey has served as host of a television show – in 2009 and 2010, he hosted three seasons of NBC’s singing competition show The Sing-Off.  Furthermore, he produced a musical reality show called Taking the Stage which premiered on MTV in 2009, documenting the lives of high school performing arts students.  Lachey also has a long-standing relationship with VH1, including his role on the Entertainment Council for the network’s Save the Music Foundation.

Big Morning Buzz is the only morning show that offers daily live music performance, in addition to delivering hot topics in entertainment news and inviting celebrity guests.  Whereas Carrie Keagan regularly co-hosted with Australian TV personality Jason Dundas, Lachey will take on a revolving set of co-hosts throughout this spring season.  For the show’s March 3rd premiere, the guest slate included a celeb interview with Sophia Bush, a musical performance by Grammy-nominated rock band The Fray, a host chat with Adrienne Bailon and Eden Grinshpan, and a lifestyle chat with entertainment reporters Jack Rico and Jackie Miranne.  This past week’s guests included celeb interviews with Lori Loughlin, Wilmer Valderrama, Mekhi Phifer, Kristen Bell, and Chris Lowell, as well as live performances by Ledisi, Bad Things featuring Shaun White, Sara Evans, Scars on 45, and The National.

The show is filmed live at VH1’s Times Square Studios at One Astor Plaza in New York City, in the “Uptown Studio” where MTV’s Total Request Live (TRL) was famously filmed throughout that show’s run from 1998 to 2008.  15 years ago, Nick Lachey was a frequent guest of TRL with his band 98 Degrees, and he now returns to the studio that launched his career – but this time he is the one asking the questions.

The Foxwoods Theatre Changes Its Name Again, Back To The Lyric Theatre

Having survived three previous corporate re-brandings since the modernized version of this historic playhouse first re-opened in 1998, the theatre most recently known as Foxwoods is transitioning to its original turn-of-the-century name, the Lyric.

Foxwoods Theatre on Broadway

The Lyric Theatre first opened in 1903 on the hot-to-trot thoroughfare of 42nd Street, and while it enjoyed some initial fanfare with such productions as Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Solider, which ran a then unheard of 296 performances, the theatre really soared during the roaring twenties, with razzle-dazzle comedies that were scored by such musical greats as the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter and which starred the likes of Fred Astaire and the Marx Brothers.

Sadly, like many businesses of the 1930’s, the Lyric Theatre could not weather the Great Depression and its final show sputtered to a close in 1934. Out of financial necessity, it was converted into a movie house that remained inconsistently operational until 1990 when the City and State of New York essentially repossessed it.

In 1992, the Lyric was placed under the protective auspices of the non-for-profit New 42nd Street Organization, who took over the lease of this landmark location, along with several other classic neighborhood beauties like the Victory Theatre and the Selwyn, in a dignified effort to preserve and honor the neighborhood’s historical integrity and significance.

Fast-forward to 1998, when Livent Inc. (a Canadian production company) partially demolished the grounds of the old Apollo and Lyric Theatres, and spent the better part of two years re-inventing the joint space, restoring the front and rear façades of the Lyric to their opulent glory.  Additional work was made to incorporate some of the most impressive interior architectural elements, namely the proscenium arch from the Apollo theatre and the dome from the Lyric, into their new design vision: a technologically-advanced performing arts center with roomy, comfortable, crowd-sustaining modern amenities.

ford theatre for the performing arts on Broadway

Once renovated and unveiled, the theatre became one of the first mascots of big business sponsorship, re-branding itself as the Ford Center for the Arts, named after none other than the Ford Motor Company.  Ironically enough, the theatre’s inaugural show, Ragtime, which had initially piqued and secured the vested interest of Ford, did not do well.  The theatre, however, did experience one considerable success with its rousing rendition of 42nd Street, which won the 2001 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival.

In 2005, Livent Inc. found itself embroiled in financial and legal troubles and Clear Channel Entertainment joined collaborative forces with Hilton Hotels, to whom it sold the naming rights, and who un-coincidentally re-named the space the Hilton Theatre.  Under Hilton’s five-year masthead, the theatre played host to a series of rather unremarkable productions including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Hot Feet, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Young Frankenstein.

In the summer of 2010, after a year of dormancy, the theatre was resurrected yet again, this time by the union of Live Nation Entertainment and Foxwoods Casino, who, not all too surprisingly, re-named it the Foxwoods Theatre.  Foxwoods placed all its bets on Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, The show, however, proved one of the most-talked about theatrical fiascos in Broadway history, inspiring an unwelcome media blitzkrieg of negative press.  This budget-buster of a show (with weekly operating expenditures reported between $1.2 and $1.4 million) was plagued from the get-go with a myriad  of technical difficulties and frightening mishaps, injuries and subsequent lawsuits, from which it never really recovered.

Even a marvel superhero like Spiderman with his minions of millions and rock star roster of brand name backers, producers, directors and choreographers including the seemingly unstoppable, unflappable and impervious Julie Taymor and Bono, could not help Spidey live up to his spectacular promise and prowess, which only goes to show that big money and big names do not guarantee a hit.

In the end, this over-the-top production was an epic loss and co-sponsor Foxwoods Casino has since folded its cards, cashed out and left the building, leaving the revolving door open to the Ambassador Theatre Group, a UK-based firm that bought out the lease last May and announced, just last week, that along with a restorative summer spruce-up, the theatre would reclaim its baptismal name, the ‘Lyric.”

Set to premiere at the old-is-new again Lyric Theatre is the beloved classic “On the Town,” a charming rollick of a musical which showcases three sailors searching for love while on NYC shore leave.  “On the Town” is quite a departure in choice from the long-rumored Australian blockbuster, “King-Kong,” which had been the expected shoo-in for the enormous 1,900 seat performance space.  But King Kong producers, who recently admitted needing more time to get it right, are probably sheepish, and understandably so, about following too closely on the heels of the Spiderman debacle and running the risk of comparison.  And it may just be that the theatre, too, wants to put all the unpleasantness behind it and begin anew with a pretty name and a safe and beloved classic.

In the case of the Ford turned Hilton turned Foxwoods, constant re-branding did not afford this gem of a theatre any real favors.  Corporate sponsorship may have become the norm for sports teams and their stadiums, but what works for baseball doesn’t necessarily work for Broadway. The Mets can play in Shea or they can play in Citi Field, it doesn’t much matter.  They come with a built-in fan base who knows that no matter the emblem on the home stadium, the product they are getting is a good old game of baseball.

So has corporate sponsorship worked anywhere on the Great White Way?  Well, the American Airlines Theatre, main homestead of the beloved Roundabout Theatre Company, is still flying high on the radar.  But the crucial difference between the Selwyn turned American Airlines Theatre and the ever-morphing Lyric, lies in the partnership.  Since 1965, the Roundabout Theatre Company has painstakingly created a consistent brand of high caliber theatre.  The RTC is trusted amongst theatregoers as a quality evening out.  As a result, they have remained loyal to the company, no matter the name emblazoned on the venue in which it presents its works, and in fact so much so, that the American Airlines Theatre is often called the Roundabout Theatre Company by its many devotees.  That is a pretty impressive feat, and as close to a home team as we’ve got here on Broadway.

All The Way, With Bryan Cranston, Opens on Broadway

bryan cranston on broadway as Lyndon B Johnson in all the wayAll the Way, Robert Schenkkan’s bio-play about Lyndon B. Johnson, opened last week at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre. After Bill Rauch, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, directed its premiere at OSF in 2012, he partnered with Diane Paulus of the American Repertory Theater to mount the political drama this past fall for a limited engagement in Boston.  Further to this, he partnered with the commercial producer Jeffrey Richards to bring it to Broadway, where previews began on February 10, 2014.  At A.R.T. as well as now on Broadway, the role of Lyndon Johnson is played by Bryan Cranston, whose fame has recently skyrocketed due to his starring role as Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad.  Between Cranston’s viscerally talented portrayal of Johnson, Schenkkan’s masterfully realistic script, and Rauch’s poised and polished direction of the ensemble cast, All the Way received wide critical praise and is stirring a lot of buzz among theatregoers.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan has declared the play to be the first half of a two-part series, with its action focused on the years leading to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  As exemplified by the biographer Robert Caro’s lifelong project to chronicle Johnson’s career in what will be five massive volumes, the story of LBJ is a rich and detailed one.  It therefore makes sense that Schenkkan would choose to break up his story into two plays.  All the Way, in focusing on the years 1963-4, includes not only Johnson’s perspective, but also gives us an inside look into the experience of Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by Brandon J. Dirden), Coretta Scott King (played by Roslyn Ruff), J. Edgar Hoover (played by Michael McKean), Senator Hubert Humphrey (played by Robert Petkoff), Governor George Wallace (played by Rob Campbell), Robert McNamara (played by James Eckhouse), Senator Strom Thurman (played by Christopher Gurr), and Johnson’s long-time aide Walter Jenkins (played by Christopher Liam Moore).  This is therefore a democratic portrayal of history, with insight not only into the presidential podium but also the experience of African Americans as well as homosexuals during the time period.

bryan cranston on broadway as Lyndon B Johnson in all the way

As for the latter, Christopher Liam Moore – who is the real-life partner of director Bill Rauch, as well as the only cast member to remain from the original Oregon production – plays Walter Jenkins, whose tragic story is honored by Schenkkan’s inclusion of his narrative, though it could easily be over-shadowed by the other events of this dynamic era.  Weeks before the 1964 political election, Jenkins was caught in an elicit act with another man in the public restroom of the YMCA.  Though Jenkins was forced to resign and leave Washington, Johnson never faltered in his support of his close friend, showing the man’s compassion despite his rough political exterior.  It is the presence of tales like this one alongside major political events that make Schenkkan’s play a personal and compelling theatrical experience.

Marilyn Stasio in Variety called the play’s style “Expressionism Lite,” referring to how the characters are not entirely realistic, nor fully caricatured, with the one exception of Cranston’s LBJ who succeeds in feeling fully authentic.  This is to the play’s credit, for it is a tricky balance to fictionalize history onstage, and the blend between rigorous detail and abridgment helps the audience to navigate this complex tale.  The cohesion of the piece also stems from Rauch’s clever direction, which stylizes the story just enough to make it artful while allowing the actors to exercise a grounded approach to their characters.  The cast of 20 remain in sight, either sitting on upstage benches designed by Christopher Acebo or by marching through the aisles of the theatre.  This lends the show a vibrant energy and a structural integrity.

Bryan Cranston in all the way on broadway

Johnson is known as a great manipulator, and this play allows us to see his Machiavellian expertise.  Bryan Cranston embodies the towering figure of Johnson despite his less-than-enormous height, partially with the help of hidden risers in his shoes, but more so due to his ferocious energy and commitment to the character.  Throughout the play, we see how Johnson bent Congress to his needs, which in this case was to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  On the other hand, we also see how the black freedom fighters acted as a counterbalance to Johnson’s own agenda, as they make up a significant part of his constituency, and we are given an inside look into Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own political savviness.  Alongside NAACP director Roy Wilkins (played by Peter Jay Fernandez) and the SNCC head Stokely Carmichael (played by William Jackson Harper), we see the other side of the story of the passing of the Civil Rights Act, allowing for a balanced take on this historic struggle.

Despite its rave reviews, All The Way has not yet been selling out its houses.  Last week, it averaged an audience capacity of 81.94% with an average paid admission of $79.04, grossing a total of $736,790 for the week.  With the reviews having determined it to be a skillful and entertaining production, the audiences may become more confident in their choice to see their beloved Cranston in his Broadway debut in such a competitive Broadway marketplace.  As the post-opening numbers start coming in, we will soon see if this becomes a commercial as well as a critical success.

Broadway Show Ticket Sales Analysis w/e 3/09/2014

This weeks notable movements on Broadway are:

A RAISIN IN THE SUN OPENS IN PREVIEWS
Shot out of cannon is A Raisin In The Sun, which is only three performances in and already the sell-out show of the new season. Denzel Washington stars in this redo of the Broadway favorite which averaged $144.53 in its first three days of previews.

MOTHERS AND SONS
Tyne Daly in Mothers and Sons continues to draw audiences, but is upside down with 81% of seats sold, but with an average of only $45 per ticket price – putting it the bottom two shows on Broadway.

ROCK OF AGES
Following the close of Bronx Bombers and Machinal, Rock Of Ages has moved into the bottom three Broadway show slot, their first time at this position. Their average paid admission is up on last week though, so time will tell if this can be turned around with recent TV spots that were run on local New York TV stations.

JERSEY BOYS
The musical story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, helmed by Dodger Theatricals, that follows the rags-to-riches tale of four blue-collar kids working their way to stardom has struck a soft spot by only filling only 63.40% of their seats last week. It appears that their strategy is to keep their prices high and seats empty, which is a General Manager strategy that is likely to end with losses for investors. Once the darling of Broadway, Jersey Boys shows signs of wear and tear, by now finishing in the bottom ten position of all Broadway shows. This show may need a fresh management approach to reinvigorate ticket sales.

The following are the Broadway ticket sales numbers for the week ending March 9, 2014:

Broadway Show Ticket Sales Analysis 3/09/2014

Show GrossGross Total Attn %Cap AvgPdAdm
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER $409,353 5,306 73.13% $77.15
A RAISIN IN THE SUN $151,179 1,046 100.00% $144.53
AFTER MIDNIGHT $622,013 5,986 72.22% $103.91
ALADDIN $826,491 10,320 100.00% $80.09
ALL THE WAY $736,790 9,322 81.94% $79.04
BEAUTIFUL $847,672 7,140 86.99% $118.72
CHICAGO $520,320 6,604 76.44% $78.79
CINDERELLA $781,798 9,988 71.30% $78.27
IF/THEN $909,159 8,502 95.26% $106.93
JERSEY BOYS $600,488 6,228 63.40% $96.42
KINKY BOOTS $1,268,989 9,961 87.44% $127.40
LES MISÉRABLES $964,004 9,286 94.28% $103.81
MAMMA MIA! $603,731 7,642 81.93% $79.00
MATILDA $991,341 10,566 92.23% $93.82
MOTHERS AND SONS $235,662 5,200 81.05% $45.32
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL $1,119,747 10,880 90.25% $102.92
NEWSIES $648,357 8,563 90.33% $75.72
NO MAN’S LAND/WAITING FOR GODOT $525,313 6,224 72.51% $84.40
ONCE $580,888 6,099 71.99% $95.24
OUTSIDE MULLINGAR $343,445 5,048 97.08% $68.04
PIPPIN $608,988 6,086 76.84% $100.06
ROCK OF AGES $299,674 3,730 79.97% $80.34
ROCKY $635,153 9,581 78.17% $66.29
THE BOOK OF MORMON $1,583,887 8,752 102.63% $180.97
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY $476,005 6,522 80.00% $72.98
THE LION KING $1,511,718 13,312 97.88% $113.56
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA $809,460 10,326 80.42% $78.39
WICKED $1,667,093 14,782 97.35% $112.78
Totals: $21,278,718 223,002 84.75% $94.46

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

Hugh Jackman to Host the 2014 Tony Awards, Sunday June 8, 2014

Hugh Jackman at the Tony AwardsOn June 8, 2014, Hugh Jackman will host the 68th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall.  This is the fourth time the Tony Award winning actor will host the event, previously having emceed the Tony’s in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Jackman is a favorite among Broadway audiences, as proven by the stupendous box office success of his limited engagement one-man show Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway in 2011, as well as A Steady Rain in 2009 where he played opposite Daniel Craig.  He earned the 2003 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role in The Boy from Oz, in which he performed for a year.  He was also recognized with a special Tony Award in 2012 for his work to raise money and awareness for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  He will appear on Broadway next season in Jez Butterworth’s play The River, with performances set to begin early 2015.

Jackman’s film credits include the role of Wolverine in the first installment of the X-Men Series, which he reprised in subsequent films X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.  In addition, he recently starred in Warner Bros’ 2013 film Prisoners, and he will also play Blackbeard in Warner Bros’ upcoming Pan.  In a more relevant role, he starred as Jean Valjean in the 2012 musical film adaptation of Les Misérables, for which he received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe Award.

2014 tony awardsIn 2005, Jackman received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for his role in hosting the 2004 Tony Awards, and he was nominated for the same honor in 2006 for his efforts in 2005.  In 2009, that specific Emmy Award was retired, and thus Jackman cannot expect to win it this year.  However, this past year, the 2012 Tony Awards broadcast did quite well, receiving five nominations at the 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards: Outstanding Special Class Program, Outstanding Music Direction, Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics, Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special, and Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special.

Hugh Jackman at the Tonys in 2012.

In taking the mic for the fourth time, Jackman will be tied for having hosted the Tony Awards for the most number of times.  Neil Patrick Harris also hosted four times: in 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013.  This year, however, Harris is starring in the title role of John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and will most likely join Jackman on stage as a nominee.

This is also the second year since the return of the Tony Awards to their long-time home at Radio City Music Hall.  For the two years prior, the Awards were relegated to the Beacon Theatre as Cirque du Soleil was occupying Radio City.  Award attendees were not pleased with the change in venue, as the Beacon was much smaller and required producers to limit their number of guests.  Thankfully, the event has now returned to its more spacious home, where it appears to stay.

The Tony Award nominations will be announced on April 29, 2014.  April 24, 2014 is the last day for Broadway shows to have their official opening and still be eligible for a nomination.  On June 8, 2014, the broadcast will air on CBS from 8:00 – 11:00 pm (live ET / delayed PT).