‘Mothers and Sons’ starring Tyne Daly opens on Broadway.

A Moving Tribute – Manhattan style

In Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons, Tyne Daly masterfully plays the lead as Katharine Gerard, a recently widowed woman who lost her only son Andre to AIDS 20 years ago.  In the opening scene, Katharine unexpectedly turns up at the Central Park West apartment of Andre’s former life partner, Cal Porter (played by Frederick Weller) .  Now alone in the world and still very much in denial about her son’s lifestyle choices, Katharine seeks solace from the one person closest to Andre prior to his untimely death.

Mothers and Sons Broadway Show tyne daly

It’s been nearly two decades since Katharine and Cal have last seen each other – at Andre’s funeral  – and the tension between them is palpable.  Katharine is resentful at Cal for taking her son away and living a lifestyle that she disapproves.  Cal is resentful at Katharine for shunning him at the funeral and refusing to acknowledge the pain he was suffering from losing Andre.

Secretly hoping that Cal has not moved on, Katharine instead finds that this once poor bohemian has become a successful money manager with a new husband (Bobby Steggert) and young son (Grayson Taylor).  Katharine cannot fathom why Cal’s life has improved so much since Andre’s death and hers has been in a steady decline.  She is angry and jealous.  They exchange bitter words.

And just when it appears these two couldn’t be further apart, secrets are revealed that not only highlight their similarities, but also brings them closer together.

The play pays tribute to the legions of gay men that were lost to the AIDS crisis in the late 20th century and shines a light on the pain of those who lived through this horrible epidemic.  When Katharine asks “When is someone going to write the next great American novel?”, Cal’s response is “It could have been Andre.”  It leaves you wondering what the world might have been like had this generation of bright and talented individuals survived.  This show is an obvious draw for gay couples from Chelsea, but should really seen by everyone because it’s a remembrance of a period in modern American history that has been largely overlooked.

Tyne Daly is believable in the role, at times you simultaneously want to hug her, shake some sense into her, and tell her she is not alone.  The subtle references to current New York City life and locations is a real treat and makes the story line even that much more enjoyable and believable.

Mothers and Sons is now playing at the Golden Theatre, located at 252 W. 45th Street in the heart of Manhattan’s theater district.

James Lapine’s ‘Act One’ Begins Previews

Last night, a new play began previews at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center’s Broadway house.  Written and directed by James Lapine, Act One is a stage adaptation of the 1954 memoir of the same name by Broadway playwright, director, and lyricist Moss Hart.

act one

James Lapine brings to this project his own vast experience as a director and librettist, having won three Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical (Into the Woods, Falsettos, Passion), as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Sunday in the Park with George).  Lapine is a frequent collaborator with the renowned composer Stephen Sondheim, having written the libretto for many of his scores and having served as director for many of his productions.

Act One tells the story of Moss Hart’s life, from his early years in the Bronx to his ascent to Broadway royalty, detailing his collaborations with the theatre multi-hyphenate George S. Kaufman.  When the memoir was published in 1954, it remained on The New York Times Bestseller List for 41 weeks, and the celebrated theatre journalist Frank Rich has called it “the greatest showbiz book ever written.”  In this new stage adaptation, Tony Shalhoub (Golden Boy, Lend Me a Tenor) plays both Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman in their later years, and Santino Fontana (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Sunday in the Park with George) plays Hart as a younger man.  The cast is rounded out by Andrea Martin, Chuck Cooper, Matthew Saldivar, Bob Stillman, Amy Warren, Bill Army, Will Brill, Laurel Casillo, Steven Kaplan, Will LeBow, Mimi Lieber, Charlotte Maier, Deborah Offner, and Matthew Schechter.

Several individuals in the cast and creative team are frequent faces at Lincoln Center.  James Lapine returns to LCT after having written the book for the musical A New Brain, with music composed by William Finn, which played in 1998 at LCT’s Off-Broadway house, the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre.  Furthermore, LCT produced a revival of Lapine’s play Twelve Dreams, which he also directed, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre in 1995.  Tony Shalhoub returns to LCT after his acclaimed performance last year as Mr. Bonaparte in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy.  Though this is Santino Fontana’s first time performing at Lincoln Center, he is a quickly rising Broadway star, having been nominated for a Tony Award for his originating starring role as Prince Topher in the still-running Broadway production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

For Lincoln Center to premiere a new play at their Broadway house, they must have confidence that it is of superb quality.  Their website coverage is certainly enthusiastic, detailing how wildly popular the memoir has been for the last half century, and explaining how Moss Hart’s tale is the classic New York story – not only because he ended up making it big, but also because he truly struggled in his early years.  After the play officially opens on April 17, 2014, it will be discernible whether James Lapine’s production succeeds in matching up to the stupendous career of the man it profiles.

America’s Got Talent Returns to Film in the NYC Area

America’s Got Talent, NBC’s #1 summertime smash hit, broke big news and new ground yesterday, announcing that the show’s exciting second round of competition will film in front of a live TV audience at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden from April 3 through April 6, 2014.

America's Got Talent with Howard Stern, Nick Cannon, Heidi Klum, Mel B. ,Howie Mandell

Complimentary VIP and regular tickets are still available in limited quantities to the general public via NBC’s website.  These tickets are expected to go pretty quickly, however, as metro area AGT fans are eager to bear historical witness as the remaining contestants audition live, right before their very eyes and those of the make-or-break ‘em celebrity judges, in order to secure the highly-coveted final spots in the upcoming season.

The ninth summer incarnation of this blockbuster variety show is expected to be even more riveting than ever before.  From October last through February, our great country was crisscrossed and fine-tooth combed for dynamic personalities and wholly unique skill sets.  Contestants were talent-scouted during open call auditions in 11 U.S. cities as big, small and diverse as Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Greensboro, Houston, Indianapolis, L.A. Miami, Nashville, New York and Providence, which only strengthens the stance that AGT truly is an equal-opportunity opportunity-provider, open to anyone of “any age” with “any talent” and “any dream” from anywhere.

This democratic philosophy prophetically proved true in 2012, when AGT co-creator, the nefarious Simon Cowell of American Idol notoriety, in conjunction with top NBC execs, made the big, bold decision to relocate his six-year-old show from its left coast locale in Burbank, CA to the greater NY metropolitan area.  The big wigs believed that in addition to doing season seven’s newly acquired judge and shock jock extraordinaire, Howard Stern, a large logistical favor, the move would favor the show, as well, infusing it with an inevitably edgy New York feel and attitude, and rewarding its long-standing East Coast fans with their rightful piece of the live action.

And they were correct on all accounts.  Last summer’s broadcast from New York’s Radio City Music Hall proved a rousing ratings success.  And Howard Stern, who has since vocalized his appreciation for the geographical accommodations, decided in an on-air radio announcement last November, to return to the show for “one more season” and keep the fab five, which includes handsome host Nick Cannon, ever-affable Howie Mandell of Deal or No Deal fame, supermodel Heidi Klum of Victoria’s Secret reverence, and newest cool kid in the clubhouse, former Spice Girl, Mel B., alive for another round of spectacular theatricality.

The two-hour season premiere of NBC’s America’s Got Talent is scheduled for Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 8/7c and will feature scenes from the shows shot at the show dates listed above.

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.