Broadway Fall 2014 Line-Up Falling into Place

This fall looks to be an exciting one on Broadway!  Let’s face it – every new season is pretty exciting.  But with the Tony Awards still a month away to commend the brilliant plays and musicals of the 2013-2014 season, announcements are already being made for shows to open next fall.

It was recently announced that Hugh Jackman will be returning to Broadway this fall in Jez Butterworth’s play The River.  Jez Butterworth’s work was last seen on Broadway with the 2011 production of Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance, directed by Ian Rickson, and prohugh jackmanduced by London-based powerhouse theatre production company Sonia Friedman Productions.  Sonia Friedman will be shepherding a Butterworth play once again, after having watched over its production at the Royal Court Theatre, where Jerusalem also premiered.  The partnership between Ian Rickson and Jez Butterworth also holds strong, as Rickson is on board to direct this play.  The River is about a loner on a remote island and the two women in his life, who will be played by British actresses Laura Donnelly and Cush Jumbo.  The River will begin performances at the Circle in the Square Theatre on October 31, 2014.  A favorite of the Great White Way, Hugh Jackman sold out his 2011 one-man show Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, and he will host the Tony Awards this year for the fourth time.

In addition to the proven partnership between director Ian Rickson and playwright Jez Butterworth, another fall show will see the recurrence of a proven Broadway partnership, this time between two beloved actors.  Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who famously co-starred in 2001’s The Producers, will join forces this fall for a Terrence McNally play called It’s Only a Play, directed by Jack O’Brien.  Like The Producers, It’s Only a Play is also a comedy based in the world of show biz.  Having premiered at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1986, It’s Only a Play is the story of a nervous playwright (Broderick) at the opening night party for a play he has written, and his interactions with his backstabbing friend (Lane).  Produced by Tom Kirdahy, who is married to Terrence McNally, the play will begin performances in September at a theatre yet to be announced.

Producer Scott Rudin also has a starry play up his sleeve for this fall.  This Is Our Youth, written by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret, The Starry Messenger) first premiemichael cera kieran culkinred Off-Broadway in a production by The New Group in 1996.  The play centers on three aimless teenagers in New York City, and this Broadway production will star Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson.  Directed by Anna D. Shapiro (Motherf**ker with the Hat), the show will have an out-of-town pre-Broadway run at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago over the summer, and it will then transfer to Broadway’s Cort Theatre with performances beginning August 18, 2014.  Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin also appeared in their same roles in an Australian production of this play in 2012, directed by Mark Brokaw.

Further fall productions that have been announced include Simon Stephens’ play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is a transfer from London’s National Theatre via the West End.  The play will occupy the Ethel Barrymore Theatre with previews beginning September 15, 2014.  In addition, The Country House by Donald Margulies will star Blythe Danner at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, with previews beginning September 9, 2014 in a Manhattan Theatre Club production.  Finally, it has also been announced that a production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing will play at the American Airlines Theatre in a Roundabout Theatre Company production, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ewan McGregor, and Cynthia Nixon, and directed by Sam Gold.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, however, as many more exciting shows are sure to be announced for the Broadway fall season in the coming months.

‘Les Miserables’ Opens At NJCU at $15, Confusing Broadway Patrons

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Les Miserables has become A Tale of Two Cities with two very different productions of Les Miserables running at the same time. One on Broadway in New York City and the other at NJCU New Jersey City University in Jersey City, NJ.

Music Theatre International who licenses the rights to Les Miserables describes the production as having won over 100 international awards and seen by over 65 million people worldwide. So it is not surprising that there are multiple productions playing simultaneously. What is surprising is to have a major Broadway revival opening of the show concurrently with another college production in Jersey City, New Jersey – just a short train ride away.

Also what may appear surprising is that the logos are identical. In obtaining rights from Musical Theatre International producers can also secure a logo kit which allows them to use the copy written logos on posters, fliers and postcards. So New Jersey City University has been sending out postcards, like ones sent for theatre discounts, over the last few weeks.

Generally rights to major productions have a statute of limitation on radius. However, in this case the rights had been granted prior to the decision to bring the show to Broadway and outstanding licenses were allowed to be monitored and produced according to a Music Theatre International representative.

There have been multiple National Tours and hundreds of licenses that had gone out prior to the decision to reopen the show on Broadway. They will run out in 2015 but it is unlikely one will be seeing local productions granted from this point while the show is on Broadway.

waving red flag at Les Miserables 2014 on Broadway

The Broadway Version of Les Miserables

The Broadway show opened on March 23rd, 2014 and the New Jersey University show opened on March 21st. The New Jersey City University Production will run only through March 30th . A short period when there might be some patrons buying tickets for New Jersey thinking it was for Broadway.

The Productions both have large casts and in fact the college production boasts 8 more musicians than the Broadway show. The director of the New Jersey University Les Miserables is quoted that ” it is the biggest undertaking in years”. It features students from voice and theatre departments, musicians from the music department as well as faculty and five children related to students and staff.  The admission for this production is $12.

The Broadway production is currently at the Imperial Theatre and features Ramin Karimoo who has starred in many Andrew Lloyd Webber productions. It has video projections and a large cast of Equity actors, and is produced by the shows original producer Cameron Macintosh.

So, if you saw the traditional Les Miserable logo and thought only “what a great promotion- a $12 Broadway ticket.”  If you take that ticket to the Imperial Theatre. Undoubtedly you will be re-directed to the nearest path train.

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.

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.

If/Then Begins Previews, With Idina Menzel, But Not With Adele Dazeem

Idina Menzel in if/then on BroadwayIdina Menzel has returned to the Broadway stage for the first time in almost 10 years.  If/Then, a new musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning team behind Next to Normal) began previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.  The musical is directed by Michael Greif, who first cast Idina in the role that became her big break – Maureen in Rent – and it is produced by David Stone, who mounted the production that earned her a 2004 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical – for playing Elphaba in Wicked.  In If/Then, she plays a woman named Elizabeth on the verge of turning 40 who, after a divorce, decides to move to New York City to make a fresh start.  The official opening will be on Sunday, March 30, 2014.

If/Then is the only new musical this spring season that is not based on pre-existing source material.  With the marketplace competition dominated by recognizable titles such as Rocky, Aladdin, Bullets Over Broadway, and The Bridges of Madison County, If/Then might have a tough time standing out.

However, national awareness of this show and its star was unintentionally heightened during this past Sunday’s Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, broadcast, when John Travolta infamously mispronounced Idina Menzel’s name while introducing her performance of the song Let It Go from the Disney animated film Frozen.  Without displaying any sign of recognizing his error, Travolta presented her as “Adele Dazeem.”  Social media has been in an uproar about this flub ever since, and people who had never even heard of Idina Menzel now know that her name is, in fact, Idina Menzel.

Apparently, the producers of If/Then realized the benefits of this tangential publicity, as the show’s official twitter account referred to the Oscars incident by tweeting “You Know Her Name.  Idina Menzel stars in If/Then on Broadway March 5th.”  Furthermore, a less official statement, but one that is still traceable to the production team, made its way across the cybersphere.  In what appeared to be an insert from the Playbill for If/Then, a picture of Idina from the Oscars was accompanied by the text: “At this performance the role of “Elizabeth” will be played by “Adele Dazeem.””  A joke bio then followed which cited her as having played “Moritz” in Nert, followed by “Ephraima” in Wicked-ly, and referred her voice performance in the Disney animated musical Farfignugen.  (Clearly this was a play on “Maureen” in Rent, “Elphaba” in Wicked, and Frozen.)  Though the note has been confirmed not to have truly been inserted into Playbills in the theatre, it fooled many people who thought it was real.  Among others, the image was tweeted by Janet Krupin, an actress in If/Then.  As those inside the theatre’s doors were spreading the prank, it is possible that the producers were the ones behind it, taking advantage of the added exposure from Travolta’s blunder.

taye diggs and idina menzel

In any case, Idina Menzel already has a huge fan base from her vast success in her career thus far, and hopefully the show’s merits will allow it to shine at the box office.  The musical had a pre-Broadway engagement at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. from November 5, 2013 to December 8, 2013, the reviews for which were not wildly positive.  Though critics praised Idina’s performance as well as the score, the storyline was reportedly muddled.  The musical features a “Sliding Doors” – style plot with two “what-if” scenarios played out side-by-side, as Elizabeth becomes both the characters “Liz” and “Beth.”  Audiences found this a bit difficult to follow.  Still, fixing kinks is what out-of-town tryouts are for, and hopefully the creative team has had time to refine the plot structure in the intervening months.

The story is actually not far from Idina’s own experience.  She recently separated from her husband of 10 years and Rent co-star Taye Diggs, and at age 42, she is struggling to be a mother to her four year-old son while revitalizing her Broadway career.  After attempting to develop herself as a singer-songwriter in Los Angeles in the years since Wicked, she is now ready to take on this role which is surprisingly close to her heart.  A naturally raw and vulnerable performer, audiences can expect that her character will pulsate with the truth of her own experience, not to mention the gravity-defying power of her sensational singing voice – no matter what her name is: Idina, Adele, Elizabeth, Liz, or Beth.

Broadway Stars at the 2014 Oscars

Last night, the 86th Annual Academy Awards crossed paths with Broadway in a number of ways.

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For the second year in a row, the event was produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron – who, in addition to having produced the recent Broadway revivals of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Promises, Promises, have perfected the Broadway musical to film adaptation concept with such movie hits as Annie (1999), Chicago (2002), The Music Man (2003), and Hairspray (2007).  They also executive produced NBC’s Broadway-themed TV show Smash.  It does make sense that these producers, with their expertise in the cross-section between theatre and film, would be chosen to run the film industry’s most significant stage show.

Last year, they may have taken the concept a little too far, as they made the unprecedented choice to give the 2013 Oscars a theme: music in film.   Though it was arguably appropriate because one of the nominees was Les Misérables, some critics thought they took the idea too far.  This year, they opted for a traditionally theme-less ceremony, and received far less criticism.  Still, purely on their own merits, some of Broadway’s favorite stars made appearances at the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

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Robert “Bobby” Lopez, who made his big break by co-writing the raunchy puppet musical Avenue Q, and furthered his renown by co-writing The Book of Mormon along with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, made history last night.  At age 39, he became the youngest person ever to receive the honor known as EGOT – which refers to someone who has earned all four of “Emmy,” “Grammy,” “Oscar,” and “Tony” Awards.  Only twelve people have earned this honor throughout all of history, and he is the only person to have won all four within a decade.  At last night’s event, Bobby won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for having co-written Let It Go from Disney’s film Frozen, which in turn won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.  He wrote the song along with his wife, Kristin Anderson Lopez.

The couple’s two young daughters, Kate and Annie, both had voice parts in Frozen.

Idina-Menzel-oscars-2014-2As is tradition at the Oscars, all the nominees for Best Original Song are performed at the ceremony by the artist who did so in the film.  Idina Menzel, who played Queen Elsa in Frozen, therefore had the privilege to sing the song at last night’s event – and she did so beautifully.  However John Travolta, who was chosen to introduce her, clearly was not familiar with one of Broadway’s biggest stars.  In reading off the teleprompter, he accidentally – and yet with a straight face – called her “Adele Dazim.”  Social media went into an uproar at the ridiculous mispronunciation.  Immediately, a twitter account in that name was created. Adele Dazim’s Twitter account gained thousands of followers within a short period of time. The account is now currently suspended.

Idina Menzel, as all Broadway aficionados know, rose to prominence when she premiered the role of “Maureen” in Rent, which she also reprised in the 2005 film adaptation, and she won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance of “Elphaba” in Wicked.  This spring season, she has returned to Broadway to star in a new musical called If/Then, written by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, and directed by Michael Greif, who first cast her in RentIf/Then will begin previews March 3, 2014, and will open at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on March 30, 2014.  Therefore, Idina made the trip to Los Angeles just days before her big Broadway opening.

Musicals were not the only type of Broadway show to feature in last night’s Academy Awards.  In addition, two nominations were granted to August: Osage County, written by Tracy Letts based off of his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play of the same name.  Those nominations were for Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, who were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.  Jean Doumanian, the producer of such Broadway shows as August: Osage County, The Mountaintop starring Samuel L. Jackson, Death of a Salesman starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nice Work If You Can Get It starring Matthew Broderick, and The Book of Mormon, produced the movie adaptation of August: Osage County along with George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Steve Traxler, and Bob and Harvey Weinstein.  Though the film did not win any Academy Awards, it has had a profitable theatrical run, and succeeded in proving that a play can be great source material for a successful motion picture.

 

Disney’s Aladdin Finally Hits the Broadway Stage

Aladdin on BroadwayAladdin, a musical stage adaptation of the beloved 1992 Disney movie, has finally come to Broadway.  Previews began on February 26, 2014 at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, and the red carpet opening night will take place on March 20, 2014.

Based off of centuries-old folklore including One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin is the story of a street urchin who wins the heart of a princess with the help of a genie from a magic lamp.  With a musical score by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, the stage version incorporates additional lyrics and a book written by Chad Beguelin (Elf the Musical, The Wedding Singer).  The show is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone).

The cast is led by Adam Jacobs (The Lion King, Les Misérables) as Aladdin, Courtney Reed (In the Heights, Mamma Mia!) as Princess Jasmine, James Monroe Iglehart (Memphis, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) as Genie, and Jonathan Freeman (The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins) as Jafar.  Freeman also played Jafar in the original animated film.  Furthermore, the musical features a trio of sidekicks to Aladdin, who reportedly were conceived and then discarded during the making of the original film, but who are now finally incorporated into this stage adaptation.  These roles are played by Brian Gonzales as Babkak, Brandon O’Neill as Kassim, and Jonathan Schwartz as Omar.

Aladdin is the newest in a line of Disney animated movie to musical theatre adaptations mounted by Disney Theatricals, whose producing history includes Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Tarzan, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid.  Three of these were enormous hits.  Beauty and the Beast ran for 13 years (from 1994 to 2007), grossing over $1.4 billion worldwide.  The Lion King has been a huge smash since its opening in 1997, and this past October it became the first show to gross over $1 billion from its Broadway production alone.  Mary Poppins also had a profitable run from 2006 to 2013, recouping its investment after only one year.  However, Tarzan and The Little Mermaid were notorious flops, failing to attract an audience despite the success of their precursors.  Therefore, Aladdin is not necessarily a shoo-in for mega-hit, but its fate will be more discernible when the reviews come out after its opening.

The show has had several out-of-town runs prior to its arrival in New York.  After its premiere at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in July 2011, the musical has had stints in Ivins, Utah in June – October 2012, St. Louis, Missouri in July 2012, and it has just completed its official pre-Broadway run at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre, where it ran from November 2013 to January 2014.

It is not unusual for a musical’s producers to counter their risk by trying out a show in a different city before bringing it to Broadway.  In anticipating a Broadway run, producers may choose to enhance the budget of a not-for-profit theatre’s production of the show while retaining legal rights to the property, and generally while maintaining a degree of creative control.  Though they do not stand to profit monetarily from the early run, they can test the waters in the press to tweak creative elements before investing the whole Broadway budget, and they can also economize by keeping the same costumes and sets.  In certain cases, if the show really isn’t as good as predicted, they may even decide to cut their losses and put a kibosh on the Broadway run.  Though they would have lost their enhancement (often in the realm of one million dollars), they would be avoiding an eventual loss of much more (Broadway musical budgets can easily range $10 – $16 million).

In this light, the fact that Aladdin has had so many pre-Broadway productions implies that its producers were not satisfied with the quality of the first run and felt the need to make adjustments.  Despite any changes that may have been made after the first three attempts, Aladdin’s most recent run in Toronto still triggered a mixed response.  The Toronto Star said that A Friend Like Me was a show-stopping number, but otherwise the musical did not match up to its animated predecessor.  The Vancouver Sun predicted that kids may enjoy the spectacle and simple story, but that its gleam may be lost on adults who crave more complex characters.  Still, Canada’s National Post gave it a rave.  In any case, critical response does not always dictate ticket sales, and over time we may see the brand power of this animated classic overriding ambivalence from the press.

Heterosexual Males Prove To Be An Elusive Audience For Broadway Producers

For many years, a Broadway show producers lament has been “What’s more difficult than making a straight play on Broadway financially successful?  Making a straight man buy tickets to a Broadway show.”

Traditionally, heterosexual adult males have been an elusive demographic for Broadway. In the Broadway League’s newly released survey of the 2012-2013 season, it was found that 68 percent of audience members were female, which reflects a trend that has existed for decades.  Though little research has been done into the sexual orientation of Broadway audiences, it is clear from phenomenological observation that gay male theatre-goers are not hard to come by.

Mad Men In The Movie Theatre

Mad Men Photo Courtesy AMC Inc.

Straight men, however, are a rarer sight – according to a recent survey, 82 percent of heterosexual males who saw Broadway shows ended up going either because their partner made them or because someone else had bought the tickets.

Nevertheless, producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo have taken up this challenge three times in the past four years.  In mounting three plays by Eric Simonson that deal directly with sports-related content, they have aimed to woo straight men to the theatre.  Lombardi, a story about the eponymous football player, played at the Circle in the Square Theatre from 2010-2011; this show completed a successful run of 244 performances and is now being adapted into a film by Legendary Pictures.  However, their last two attempts with Simonson sports plays (Magic/Bird in 2012 and Bronx Bombers in 2014) both incurred major financial losses.  Bronx Bombers, which just announced its premature closing last week, recouped only 24 percent of its $3 million capitalization and averaged only 63 percent capacity throughout its short run.

Bronx Bombers

Sports is not the only subject that producers have undertaken in order to attract straight men to the audience.  Politics is another male-dominated topic.  This upcoming Broadway season includes one promising political play – Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way, which tells the behind-the-scenes story of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency during the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In addition to its manly themes of power and justice, the Broadway production stars Bryan Cranston, who is well-known for his role in AMC’s Breaking Bad – a record-breaking hit television show and a favorite with men in particular.  Box office wraps for this play were strong enough to land it in the top 10 last week, though it is still in previews.  Other recent Broadway favorites on political themes include Frost/Nixon in 2007 and Gore Vidal’s The Best Man in 2012, both of which succeeded in recouping their investments.

Still, the playing field is open for wildcard topics to draw in the straight male audience.  For instance, Rock of Ages, with its head-banging 80’s rock score, has proved successful with this demographic.  Furthermore, both Monty Python’s Spamalot, which grossed more than $175 million over 1,500 performances between 2005 and 2009, and The Book of Mormon, running at full capacity with top box office grosses since 2011, provide an irreverent brand of comedy that appeals to the heterosexual male population.  Despite these successes, however, it still remains a challenge for producers to attract straight men to their theatres.

Super Bowl XLVIII Negatively Impacts Broadway Ticket Sales, Despite Positive Expectations

superbowl 48 trophyOn Sunday, February 2, 2014, the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos, 43-8, winning the National Football League championship at the Super Bowl XLVIII. The game was held just over the Hudson River from New York City at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

As it turns out, the Broncos were not the only ones who could have used a better defense.  Though Broadway shows across the board adjusted performance schedules and made promotional efforts to engage the influx of sports fans flocking to the city, theatre ticket sales were at a disappointing low, with weekly box office grosses dropping $2.4 million and with 15,000 fewer tickets sold compared to the previous 7-day period.

Total ticket sales were only $16,714,694 in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, though they reached $19,122,428 in the preceding week.  The only shows to reach full audience capacity were The Book of Mormon and the double-bill Mark Rylance-led Shakespeare productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III.  Even long-running hits such as The Lion King saw a big drop in sales, decreasing 10 percent since the week before.  Although the total weekly gross for all productions was comparable to the total gross in Super Bowl week last year, there are presently four more shows running than this time last year.

In recent history, Broadway producers have seen non-weather related ticket sales slumps, the most recent during the Republican National Convention in 2004, when ticket sales dropped 22%. This time the slump was so severe, that the New York City Mayor may rethink efforts to bring other events to the area, like the Olympics, the World Cup or even the Stanley Cup. It may increase hotel receipts, but do little for the rest of the NYC economy.

superbowl-tobaggan-run

In honor of the football event, New York City and the Super Bowl Host Committee joined forces to carry out an unprecedented shutdown of 13 blocks in Midtown Manhattan.  As a result, traffic was restricted in the heart of Times Square on Broadway between 34th Street and 47th Street for the four days leading up to the game.  The officially dubbed “Super Bowl Boulevard” hosted a slew of events ranging from a toboggan run to an outdoor stage featuring performances by, among others, the Broadway casts of Rock of Ages and Jersey Boys.  Other shows – including Rocky, Pippin, Motown, Chicago, Mamma Mia! and Newsies – gave special performances in nearby Bryant Park.  Still, it appears the excitement of the game overpowered the convenience of the theatre district welcoming the flood of visitors with open arms. The “Super Bowl Boulevard” festivities felt crushed in the small space on Broadway, especially given that the Javits Center, on the West Side of Manhattan was the original location earmarked , but another event grabbed the booking.

Broadway producers, anticipating the conflict, made significant efforts to take advantage of the tourist traffic.  Broadway Week, an annual 2-for-1 ticket promotion, happened to coincide with the shutdowns, and every running production (with the exception of the confident hit The Book of Mormon) participated in the discount program – most likely aiming to attract Super Bowl theatregoers.  Furthermore, the Broadway League (calling themselves “the theatrical equivalent of the NFL”) released a press statement welcoming Super Bowl XLVIII to Times Square, providing a user-friendly map for pedestrians to navigate their way to the theatres, and announcing alternate curtain times to accommodate football aficionados.

Rock of Ages

One show, Rock of Ages, made multiple efforts to attract football fans.  The 1980s rock jukebox musical has traditionally done very well with the adult male demographic, which is unusual for Broadway musicals.  It therefore makes sense that they would take this opportunity to gain added exposure among sports fans.  In addition to performing a half hour set onstage at Super Bowl Boulevard on Thursday afternoon prior to the game, the cast made the journey to MetLife Stadium on game day, performing two sets outside the gates prior to kickoff.  In an even greater feat, the producers convinced three NFL stars to join the cast onstage at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre, playing bartenders in four brief scenes for a temporary stint.  However, Rock of Ages was no exception in terms of poor box office performance; their gross was $60,000 less than the previous week.

Overall, despite positive expectations that the event might help rally the crowds to Broadway, the performance week was disappointingly low.  Presumably, the grosses might have been even worse had it not been for the Broadway League’s efforts to woo the scant few Super Bowl fans that actually did go to a show.  It is likely that the Super Bowl fans also booked all the hotel rooms in New York City, which meant that the normal tourists didn’t have anywhere to stay. Super Bowl Boulevard also served to distract the remaining tourists from going to the theatre, merely adding to the multitude of entertainment options available in Times Square.  Still, some of these marketing efforts may prove fruitful in the long run, having possibly increased national awareness of the current Broadway slate.

Newsies Still Packs Them In, a Year After Jeremy Jordan Departed

Newsies Broadway Musical

Newsies Broadway Musical

Encouraged by the New York newsboy strike of 1899, Disney’s cathartic production of Newsies the Musical first premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in the fall of 2011, quickly moving on to the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway in the spring of 2012.  Whether it is because the show has been running on Broadway for an extensive period of time or the show wrestles without an attention reeling name like Jeremy Jordan, this Disney musical has not been living up to its full potential this year, compared to the last. (Jeremy Jordan left Newsies on Sept 4 2012 to pursue his dream of TV fame in the musical drama TV series Smash which aired on NBC and ended its 2nd, and final, season on May 26, 2013)

When Newsies first opened on Broadway in the March of 2012, they were averaging 100.8% in ticket sales and were grossing an average of $937,788.92, in comparison to January of 2013. Up until now they have been averaging 95.6% in ticket sales and are grossing an average of $847,072.23, with a 97% of theatre seats sold on average every night.  Looking at this data, there was not a colossal loss, possibly because in the beginnings of this production, people were so anxious about this musical being an adaptation to the popular 1992 film, starring Christian Bale. Compared to the movie, the musical is much longer and more care and precision have been placed into it.

Recasting has always been a difficult task to execute and even though the show has fared critically in monetary terms, Jeremy Jordan’s replacement, Corey Cott, has been fairly up to par. The emotional build up for every number is not nearly as tantamount to what Jeremy set the standards for, but Corey manages to pull off an astounding performance with a voice similar to Jeremy’s, making up for many of the weak moments to the female lead’s, Kara Lindsay’s, singing. Albeit the humorous, witty journalistic jokes and snappy, energetic attitude, Kara lacks this sort of resilience and strength, for the most part; coming off seemingly reserved and as if she is holding herself back, teetering along the lines of the melody and not quite hitting all of her notes. (Maybe this is due to the exhausting eight-shows-a-week schedule.)

Aside from the exciting dance numbers and character developments, there is exceptional use of the limited space on stage. The construction of the set, along with the essence of New York, is captured quite perfectly. A gate at the top of each moving staircase so that they can connect or detach from each other exacerbates the excitement of the chase-run scenes. The backdrop is tastefully modern, displaying shifting scenery or showing words from a typewriter whenever Kara’s character speaks what she is so furiously typing. Any seat in the house could clearly see what was going on, although being in the front few aisles definitely opens up your eyes to the deliberate sweat dripping and spit flying everywhere.

Even though Disney’s target market is for families of all ages, female fans of the Christian Bale movie of the same name, the audience demographic at this show seems to skew to an older, more mature crowd who may find solace in this hopeful musical because of the very pertinent modern day financial and social struggles.

With tattered corduroys and newsboy cap wearing orphan boys selling newspapers, desperate to make a living out on the cutthroat streets of New York, Newsies pulls at the heartstrings, bringing to mind the toil of making a living on Broadway, or simply the everyday strife that everybody trudges through. With no foul language or anything particularly scandalous to worry about, overall, this show is quite uplifting, entertaining, and sublime for families.