Broadway’s “Love Letters” Closes Early

This Rotating Star Vehicle Never Gained Traction

love letters posterA.R. Gurney’s Love Letters is a two-hander play that was just revived at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, running for a total of 101 performances since September 13, 2014 before closing suddenly on December 14, 2014. Producers Nelle Nugent, Barbara Broccoli, Frederick Zollo, and Olympus Theatricals wooed a series of hot stars who seemed to be perfectly suited to the demographic of the Broadway ticketbuying audience, including Brian Dennehy, Mia Farrow, Carol Burnett, Candice Bergen, and Alan Alda, and the cast was also slated to include Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Anjelica Huston, and Martin Sheen – the latter bunch had fortunately not yet entered rehearsals, as they will not get to perform. This is the second time this method of rotating stars in Love Letters was attempted on Broadway; the first took place in 1989, and was apparently successful enough to warrant a revival. However, this time the recipe failed; perhaps because the marketing strategy was ill-conceived, perhaps because the stars chosen were not exciting enough to ticketbuyers, or perhaps because the play itself is tired.

A Financial Failure, Despite Promising Buzz

With so many stars entering the cast, the show’s producers must have taken for granted that enough seats would be sold to get mia farrow brian dennehy love lettersthrough the rotating casts. However, the show never brought in more than $483,280 in a given week, which represents only 61.89% of its gross potential. The lowest achievement took place in the week ending September 28, 2014, when the show only brought in $178,812, representing only 20.15% of the gross potential. What was even more alarming is that week occurred shortly after the opening night, in which reviewers everywhere were providing free press coverage by reviewing the show. If that didn’t cause ticketbuying to pick up, then there was little hope that anything they could spend their dollars on to promote the show would have any substantial effect. The only hope would be that the later names would prove surprisingly more interesting to theatregoers than the early actors such as Mia Farrow, who apparently holds little interest for Broadway attendees. They were all waiting for Carol Burnett, Candice Bergen, or Anjelica Huston.

Hope Remains for the Touring Production

The National tour will launch in the fall of 2015, giving the production another three quarters to prepare, set tour dates, solidify casting, and partner with regional theatres. As this production was never particularly metropolitan, it should do quite well on the regional circuit, where the starry names (if they manage to get any for the tour after this Broadway fiasco) will have a great impact, perhaps greater than in New York, and where the play’s simple construct will be a draw for subscription theatres looking to fill a slot with a reliable, inexpensive play. Though it will be difficult to make back the loss incurred by the presumably completely lost Broadway capitalization, it is possible that the tour will contribute to getting the show a little less in the red, if not fully in the black. Still, this production will never prove to be the hit-and-run best case scenario they may have been hoping for.

“Love Letters” Opens on Broadway

Just Six Preview Performances

love letters posterOn September 13, 2014, A.R. Gurney’s play Love Letters had its first preview at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. After just six previews, on September 18, 2014, the show had its official opening. Whereas most shows usually run for three or four weeks of previews before inviting the press to review the show, denoting its official opening, Love Letters took a different approach. The reason is that the show is cast with a rotating selection of actors, all who are at the top of their trades. As the show is read rather than memorized, which they can get away with due to the conceit of letters, there is less left to chance than with most shows, so fewer preparatory performances were needed. Moreover, as this preliminary cast – Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy – is only slated to appear until October 10th (with Dennehy continuing on until November 8th), it was necessary for the press to be invited early on, so theatregoers would have a chance to see the cast represented in the reviews for a few weeks after the reviews came out.

A Rotating Cast of Stars

This is the second time Gurney’s epistolary play has been seen on Broadway – the first time was in 1989. The 2014 revival is directed mia farrow brian dennehy love lettersby Gregory Mosher, who is presently the artistic director of Lincoln Center Theatre, and who has directed such Broadway shows as That Championship Season, A View From The Bridge, and James Joyce’s The Dead. Like in the first production of Gurney’s play, the show is performed with a rotating cast of stars, taking turns in the two-hander. As mentioned, the first duo is Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy, and on October 11th Carol Burnett will step in to read with Dennehy. Brian Dennehy is a Broadway star best known for his portrayal of Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman. Farrow, on the other hand, hasn’t been seen on Broadway since 1996, but she is renowned for film performances in such movies as Rosemary’s Baby. On November 8th, the pair will be replaced by Alan Alda and Candice Bergen, and on December 6th the duo will be played by Stacy Keach and Diana Rigg. Finally, from January 10th to February 1st, the run will conclude with the roles played by Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen.

Mixed Reviews, Tending Toward the Positive

The reviews spanned the spectrum, with critics either praising the durability of the revival along with the star performances, or panning the show for being glorified staged reading. It is true that the actors have not memorized their lines, which is why the producers were able to woo such esteemed actors, and so many of them, to do the parts. Furthermore, as these actors have busy film schedules, the short stints allowed many of them to take on the roles when they would have normally been unable to commit to a Broadway show. Therefore, the balance works out, as long as the audience doesn’t mind seeing the actors with their glasses donned and reading the parts from the pages of the letters. Fortunately, it is all about the letters, and the story was commended for its tribute to a now old-fashioned form of communication in this age of email and text messaging. The play was reported as being quietly moving and deceptively simple, while the performances were lauded for the depths they managed to reach.

Candice Bergen, Chris Noth, David Mamet, and More Set for EST Gala

Chris Noth

Chris Noth

Broadway producers Jerry Frankel and Jeffrey Richards will be honored by the Ensemble Studio Theatre at its 45th Anniversary Gala, being held at SIR Stage 37 (508 W. 37th Street) on May 20. The evening will begin with a 6:30pm cocktail reception, followed by a live show at 8.

Numerous Broadway performers and creatives are scheduled to appear in the gala event, which will be hosted by director Jerry Zaks. Candice Bergen, Chris Noth, Norm Lewis, Laura Osnes (currently enchanting Broadway audiences in Cinderella), Jekyll & Hyde composer Frank Wildhorn, playwright David Mamet, songwriter Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), Elizabeth Ashley, and director/choregrapher Kathleen Marshall will be among the participants. Cast members from the 2009 production of the musical Hair will also perform.

“All of us at EST are proud to be honoring two of Broadway’s most illustrious producers, who have a record of producing many new plays and musicals that originated in not-for-profit theatres like ours,” stated Ensemble Studio Theatre artistic director William Carden. “Proceeds support EST’s own productions of new plays, which have increased markedly in the past five years with tremendous growth in box office revenue, greater recognition for EST artists, and a higher profile for our theatre.”

New Set of Stars Join Broadway’s Best Man

A new slate of stars step up to take the place of departing cast members in the Broadway production of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man tonight. Cybill Shepherd (Moonlighting) is replacing Candice Bergen as a politician’s long-suffering wife, John Stamos (Full House) is succeeding Eric McCormack as a slick rival politician, and Kristin Davis (Sex and the City) is taking over Kerry Butler’s role as his wife.

Original cast members James Earl Jones (giving The Best Man‘s most enjoyable performance as a former President of the United States), John Larroquette, Jefferson Mays, and Angela Lansbury are still with the production, though Lansbury is scheduled to depart on July 24 when Elizabeth Ashley (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) will take over her role.

Though The Best Man didn’t win any Tony Awards last month–it was nominated for Best Revival of a Play and James Earl Jones received a Best Actor nod–the production has done quite well, nearly selling out during its first weeks and going on to enjoy an average of 80% capacity since then.  Written in 1960, its story of presidential politics still feels pretty timely during this election year.  The play was originally scheduled for a limited run ending on July 8, but extended to September 9 due to popular demand (which was undoubtedly excited by its starry cast).