“Fun Home” Begins Broadway Previews

A Tour de Force Transfer from the Public Theater

fun homeOn March 27, 2015, Fun Home began previews at the Circle in the Square Theatre. This new musical transferred to Broadway following a wildly successful run at the downtown Public Theater, the not-for-profit venue that is responsible for Shakespeare in the Park, among other successful Broadway transfers such as the recently announced Hamilton. The musical has a book by Lisa Kron, whose play Well played on Broadway in 2006, in which she also starred as a character based off of herself. Therefore, Fun Home is a departure for Kron, at least in terms of the fare we have seen on the Broadway stage, as it is a full scale musical and not intended to be autobiographical. Lisa Kron also wrote the lyrics for a score by Jeanine Tesori, who composed the music for Violet, A Free Man of Color, Shrek the Musical, Caroline, or Change, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. The show is directed by Sam Gold, the up and coming young director who made a huge splash Off-Broadway before directing a string of Broadway shows in recent years including Seminar, Picnic, The Realistic Joneses, and The Real Thing. This, however, is his first Broadway musical directing position.

Based Off The Graphic Novel by Alison Bechdelfun home

Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori collaborated on this musical adaptation, which is based off of a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The musical takes place in three time periods, which overlap non-linearly in the show. Over the course of the musical, the protagonist, Alison, is 43 years old (as the narrator), 19 years old (as an Oberlin student), and 8 years old (as a child in her father’s restored Victorian home). In her first year of college, Alison came out of the closet, identifying as a lesbian. Over the course of this fascinating interwoven tale, Alison explores connections between her family’s history and her coming out. For instance, her father was overbearing when she was a child, she witnessed her father having a sexual affair with a man, and when he ordered her to put on a dress, she disobeyed and wore jeans instead. Her father’s death also becomes a seminal moment in her life, as she reexamines the impact this has had on her own life. The way that the three stories are told out of order is artfully done, reinventing her own story through personal connections.

Excellent Buzz but So Far Mediocre Box Office

Following its slam dunk run at the Public Theater, Fun Home came to Broadway in a storm of buzz. However, this buzz may not have extended to the entire theatergoing public, and instead may be reserved for New York locals and diehard theatre aficionados. Therefore, the show has been holding on just barely at the box office. In the last reported week of box office figures, the week ending April 26, 2015, the show brought in $436,173, which represents just 59.33% of its gross potential. This is also the highest gross the show has seen thus far. The Circle in the Square Theatre is a very small Broadway venue, so it is difficult to make a large weekly gross, but still the show is having a difficult time even reaching the potential of that small venue. However, the Tony nominations may change that, as Fun Home has just been announced to have received an incredible 10, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Orchestration, three acting nominations, and two design nominations.

“The River” Concludes Its Run

An Unqualified Success Both Critically and Commercially

hugh jackmanOn February 8, 2015, The River concludes its run at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway. It has been running since its first preview on October 31, 2014, with its official opening night taking place on November 16, 2014. The small-scale play starred Hugh Jackman along with Laura Donnelly and Cush Jumbo, the latter two who are British actresses making their Broadway debuts. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, is a huge Broadway name, as well as a magnificent actor commended for his work on both stage and screen, musical and dramatic. It is no question that Jackman’s stature contributed to the vast success of this show at the box office, but the unmatchable quality of the production precedes him. The play is written by Jez Butterworth, an English writer whose previous Broadway production, Jerusalem, starred Mark Rylance and received rave reviews in both London and New York. Like Jerusalem, The River is also directed by Ian Rickson, and also produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, both of whom have a secure reputation for producing only works of the finest quality.

A Profitable Production, Plus a T-Shirt Auction for Charityhugh jackman laura donnelly

After just seven weeks of performances, The River recouped its $3.2 million capitalization and entered profitmaking territory. This is especially impressive given the intimate size of the Circle in the Square Theatre, which seats just 776 audience members, by far smaller than most all other houses on Broadway. With just three actors and one set staged “in the thrust,” the show still had a moderately high budget for a play, presumably due to the star salary required by Jackman’s representation. However, this was no challenge for this dramatically compelling and intellectually provocative work of art, as it attracted as much money as it did praise. In addition, the creative team decided to incorporate an innovative strategy into their efforts to raise money for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS. Whereas most shows in this season raise money merely with a post-show speech and some plastic buckets held by supporting cast members, Jackman took center stage once again following his bow to conduct a crowd-pleasing auction. The item for sale was none other than the t-shirt he wore each night. The winner also earned the chance to go backstage with him briefly to receive it. Of the $5.2 million record-breaking amount that this organization earned from the totality of Broadway shows, The River contributed a miraculous $550,000. In one high profile example, Taylor Swift attended the show with her family on Christmas Eve, and purchased his t-shirt for $6,000. Jackman matched that amount himself, and another audience member bought his belt for $2,000.

Proof that Quality-Driven Productions Can Thrive on Broadway

It is to the credit of the marvelous Sonia Friedman Productions that plays like The River can even come to Broadway in the first place, not to mention earn vast profits and critical praise. This is an example of expert producing, which is an underappreciated artform perfectly illustrated in this case. Sonia is an advocate of the artist, and that is why Jez Butterworth’s play and works directed by Ian Rickson time and again are produced by her company. It is not only a matter of seducing the perfect star, in this case Hugh Jackman, but it is also demonstrating a true appreciation for good art that allows these artistic relationships to thrive. It is certainly not an easy balance to strike, but The River has proved that this recipe does exist; it just takes experience, dedication, and excellent taste.

“Lady Day” Plays Final Performance

Extensions Upon Extensions, and Wins for Audra McDonald

microphoneOn October 5, 2014, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill played it final performance at the Circle in the Square Theatre. It began performances on March 25, 2014, with its official opening night on April 13, 2014. Originally intending to play for only a limited 10-week engagement, the show continually extended until it ending up running for 193 performances in all. The play with music starred Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday, and was essentially a bio-play in which McDonald recounted the highs and the lows of Billie Holiday’s life and career. The play received two 2014 Tony Award nominations, winning them both – McDonald took home the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, and Steve Canyon Kennedy won for Best Sound Design of a Play. This event actually let Audra McDonald make Tony Award history, as she became the first woman to win the awards for all four acting categories: Best Lead Actress in a Musical, Best Lead Actress in a Play, Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, and Best Supporting Actress in a Play. Furthermore, McDonald now holds the most Tony Award wins for any actor in the competitive categories.

Breaking the House Box Office Record

In the week ending September 21, 2014, the show grossed $696,922 for the eight performances, which broke the Circle in the Square Theatre’s box office record for weekly gross. That means it brought in more ticket sales than any production in the theatre’s history in one week. The show recouped its capitalization of $2.6 million in early August, so these continually high sales helped the producers to reap in a significant profit. In the show’s final week ending October 5, 2014, that record got broken for a second time, as fans flocked to catch the show in its last performances. That week, the show grossed $762,599, which represented 105.49% of its gross potential. That was also the first week that the show broke 100% gross potential. Before the Tony Awards, the show was bringing in around 60 to 75 percent of its gross potential, but as the awards season began gearing up, those numbers rose to the 80 percent range. However it wasn’t until the last weeks of the run that the show began to hit record-breaking figures. Nevertheless, recoupment was certain for this show by the end of summer, as its modest budget or $2.6 million allowed for quickly entering profit-making territory.

Creative Team and Storyline

The show was directed by Lonny Price, who was behind such shows as 110 in the Shade, Master Harold and the Boys, and Urban Cowboy.Actress singer Audra McDonald red carpet event black dress It was written by Lanie Robertson, for whom this is the first Broadway credit. In addition to Tony Award winning sound design by Steve Canyon Kennedy, the show had lighting design by Robert Wierzel, costume design by ESosa, scenic design by James Noone, and music arrangements and orchestrations by Tim Weil. The story is set in 1959 as Billie Holiday sings one of her final public appearances at the Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Audra McDonald performs alongside pianist Shelton Becton playing Holiday’s accompanist Jimmy Powers, along with a dog named Roxie who plays Holiday’s dog Pepi. She sings some of Holiday’s beloved tunes including “When a Woman Loves a Man,” “Baby Doll,” “Foolin’ Myself,” “God Bless the Child,” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.” Overall, she goes into the sadder elements of Holiday’s life, while doing justice to her magnificent voice.

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” Opens on Broadway

The Circle in the Square Theatre is one of Broadway’s more intimate venues, allowing the audience to get up close and personal with the performer in front of them.  In the case of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, which opened on April 13, 2014, the star is five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, and the personal story is that of the timeless and beloved jazz singer Billie Holiday.  According to the largely positive critical response, this play with music is an engaging and compelling piece, in which McDonald guides her crowd through the journey of Holiday’s life – both musical and personal.  The play is written by Lanie Robertson, directed by Lonny Price, and the music was arranged and orchestrated by Tim Weil.


The play was first produced at New York’s Off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre in 1986, and this is its Broadway premiere.  This bio-show recounts the songs that made Billie Holiday famous, as well as the tales that made her notorious.  Specifically, she was an alcoholic and heroin addict, who only found balance and solace through the deep bounty of her singing voice.  The fictional set-up is meant to recreate one of Holiday’s final performances, at a small, intimate bar in Philadelphia.  Fortunately, the Circle in the Square Theatre is able to recreate this venue better than many other Broadway houses might.  Still, The New York Times critiqued the show for its lack of believability, for Holiday often performed in a dark room with a spotlight so she could not see her own audience, and she would have never divulged such a personal tale as McDonald does in this portrayal.

This show follows in the tradition of biographical shows based off the lives of now deceased performers, delving into their tragedy as well as their timeless beauty.  For instance, End of the Rainbow, also a bio-play with music, ran on Broadway in the spring of 2012, with Tracie Bennett portraying Judy Garland with all her force and folly, including her timeless hits such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”  Furthermore, the spring of 2013 saw Nathan Lane playing the 1930s burlesque performer Chauncey in The Nance, exploring the ups and the downs of his life.  Time and again, producers rely on the familiarity of historical figures recreated by modern-day performers, banking on the double name recognition to move tickets.

Lady Day and Emerson’s Bar and Grill is just hanging on at the box office.  As it is only playing seven performances a week in a theatre with only 682 seats, the show already faces difficulty in competing with the other shows in terms of weekly grosses.  Even so, its weekly figures have been fairly low.  In the week ending April 13, 2014, the show grossed $366,156, which was only 58.73% of its gross potential.  This is about how well the show has been doing since it began previews.  It is scheduled to close on August 10, 2014.

Godspell Announces June 24th Closing

The first post-Tony Award casualty, Godspell has announced that it will be concluding its run on June 24. The cast of the energetic Broadway revival performed on the Tony Awards telecast on June 10, but presumably the television exposure was not enough to boost ticket sales. The insertion of Corbin Bleu into the production and the failure to get any Tony nominations didn’t help, so the show went into the Tony’s against the wind.

When the production closes, it will have played nearly 300 performances at the Circle in the Square Theatre. Although the New Testament-based musical, featuring songs by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked), is leaving Broadway, Godspell will soon hit the road in 2013 for a U.S. national tour.

This production of Godspell was Ken Davenport’s grand experiment that received its funding from over 100 separate small investors, a true example of crowd-funding. It’s been nearly 40 years since Godspell made its ground-breaking debut on Broadway, so it was fitting that it would come back to Broadway in a revolutionary way. No word yet on whether the production broke even, but the very thought of that misses the point.