Disney’s “Newsies” Ends on a High Note

Continually Exceeding Expectations

Disney Musical Newsies Broadway ShowThe Disney Theatricals production of Newsies concluded its Broadway run this past Sunday, August 24, 2014.  Unlike the majority of Broadway shows that choose to shutter after consistently earning dangerously low box office sales, Newsies had healthy, if declining, sales upon its decision to conclude the run.  There are many reasons that Disney decided to close early, despite the continual profits.  First of all, Newsies has already exceeded expectations beyond the producers’ wildest dreams.  The musical is based off a 1992 film of the same name which was a major flop at the movie box office, but which managed to gain a cult following in the home video and online markets with musical theater fans.  When Harvey Fierstein wrote the book for the musical adaptation, it was originally intended to play only regionally, at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey.  The intent was to earn profits primarily by licensing the show to amateur and regional houses.  However, when many New York critics who made the trek over the river to see the show gave it stupendously positive reviews, Disney decided to bring it to Broadway.  The show was originally intended only for a 3 month run at the Nederlander Theater, but encouraging box office sales and reviews persuaded the producers to extend for an open-ended run.

A Broadway Success Story

The show ran for two and a half years, totaling 1,004 performances on top of the 16 preview performances.  In this time, it earned overnewsies choreography $100 million at the box office, grossing the first $1 million in only two weeks.  It filled 94% of its seats across the run, and saw an average gross of over $700,000 per week.  With a modest budget of only about $5 million, the show was able to recoup its costs in only nine months.  After beginning previews on March 15, 2012, the show opened on March 29, 2012, and it announced recoupment on December 20, 2012.  In addition, it earned eight 2012 Tony Award nominations, winning two (those for Best Choreography for Christopher Gattelli and Best Original Score for Alan Menken and Jack Feldman).  Though Disney is well-known for its hits such as the long-running The Lion King as well as its newly successful musical adaptation of Aladdin, it has also had significant flops in recent years including The Little Mermaid and Tarzan.  Therefore, the success of Newsies comes with great appreciation for the mega-producer Disney, and it decided to close at a prudent point in the show’s trajectory.

Why Close Now?

Although profits have been relatively healthy in the last few months, they have shown a gradual decline.  Furthermore, Thomas Schumacher (the president of Disney Theatricals) explained that based on the past performance of the company’s shows, he would have expected that Newsies would decline in the last few weeks of summer, and show a significant drop amidst the newly competitive fall season.  To avoid this, they announced closing on June 22, 2014, which allowed the show to pick up steam at the end of its run.  In addition, the show will begin its National Tour in October 2014, and the producers can save hundreds of thousands of dollars by re-appropriating the physical production (sets and costumes) to the touring production.  Furthermore, the show will be long remembered in Broadway history as an unexpected hit, which went out on a high note.  Even though its run was much shorter than many of Disney’s other shows, the run was longer than originally expected, and fans around the country will soon be able to see it in the touring production.

“Newsies” on Broadway Announces Closing in August 2014

Newsies: An Unexpected Closing Decision

Disney Theatricals’ production of Newsies has been running at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre since March 15, 2015, with its official opening night on March 29, 2014.  For the 2012 Tony Awards, it was nominated for eight awards, winning two: Best Choreography for Christopher Gattelli, and Best Original Score for Alan Menken and Jack Feldman.  With a book by Harvey Fierstein and directed by Jeff Calhoun, this musical was the break-out role for its star Jeremy Jordan, who has gone on to star in the Broadway production of Bonnie & Clyde as well as the film version of The Last 5 Years and the television show SmashNewsies has been performing consistently well at the box office; with a modest budget of $5 million, it has gone on to gross over $100 million for Disney Theatricals.  In recent months, it has been holding up if not knocking it out of the park at the box office, which is why it comes as somewhat of a surprise that the show has just announced its closing date: August 24, 2014.

Disney Musical Newsies Broadway ShowNewsies is based on a 1992 film inspired by the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City.  That film was much less of a success than this musical has proven to be, as it only earned less than $3 million, with a budget of $15 million.  This film flop therefore ranks as one of Disney’s lowest-earning live action movies of all time.  This goes to show that different elements make for different degrees of success on the stage and on the screen.  With a compelling storyline, this show is renowned for its thrilling choreography, embracing the theatricality of the musical medium.  Furthermore, Harvey Fierstein is not only an industry favorite but a very talented musical book writer, and he did a wonderful job of adapting the story for the stage.

The Disney Theatricals Slate

Though Disney did not disclose its decision-making process, the organization likely felt that the show had been a great enough success to go out with a bang, rather than continue to have it run on sales that could only begin to taper off as time went on.  Whereas the show once regularly earned over a million dollars weekly, its numbers have been significantly lower in recent months.  Furthermore, Disney has several enormous Broadway hits already, the most notable being The Lion King which has been running for 16 years at the top of the gross charts, and the now-closed Beauty and the Beast which ran for 13 years.  Furthermore, the organization has just opened its new show Aladdin this season, and it will soon premiere its stage adaption in London of Shakespeare in Love (a co-production with Sonia Friedman Productions), as well as a revised stage adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in California’s La Jolla Playhouse this upcoming fall.  Still, not all of Disney’s stage shows have been successes, with notable flops including Tarzan and The Little Mermaid.

newsies choreography

A National Tour, and An Available Nederlander Theatre

Not only does Disney have other shows to focus on, but it never planned for Newsies to run for as long as it did.  The production had its first try-out run at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, with the intention of focusing the property on licensing, regional, and amateur productions, similar to its High School Musical franchise.  However, when the reception proved to be a success, especially from notable New York theatre critics, the decision was made to transfer to the Nederlander Theatre, but again only for a limited engagement of three months.  Now that the show has played for well over two years, it has far exceeded its original expectations.  Plans are now underway for a national tour to begin in October 2014.  This will now open up the Nederlander Theater for musicals that are vying for a venue, as there are remarkably few available theatres on Broadway for new musicals, though there are many in development.

“Kinky Boots” Takes an Unusual Hiatus

Kinky Boots has been playing at the Al Hirschfield Theatre on Broadway since it began previews on March 3, 2013.  With a book by Harvey Fierstein (La Cage aux Folles, Newsies, Casa Valentina), a score by the singer songwriter Cyndi Lauper, and directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (Legally Blonde: the Musical, The Rocky Horror Show revival), the musical is based on the 2005 film of the same name and inspired by a true story.  Kinky Boots is the sensationalized tale of a young man struggling to keep his father’s boot factory afloat in England, only to resuscitate it as a maker of boots for drag queens.  In addition to winning the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2013, it also took home the Tony Awards for Best Score, Best Actor (Billy Porter), Best Sound Design of a Musical, Best Choreography (Jerry Mitchell), and Best Orchestrations (Stephen Oremus), with an additional seven nominations.  Needless to say, the show is a hit, consistently playing to well over a million dollar grosses.

In a generally unprecedented move, Kinky Boots took a brief hiatus this past week.  Between May 8, 2014 and May 13, 2014, the show went dark, but the theatre did not.  Univision, the American Spanish language television station that boasts one of the largest audiences of SpKinky boots broadwayanish speaking television viewers in the world, rented out the Al Hirschfield Theatre over this period, during the time that the show would have played a full week of eight performances.  The only reason this was possible was because of Univision’s monetary power, as they not only paid for the theatre rental, but additionally paid the producers and theatre owners for the lost revenue in ticket sales over the eight performances in the 1,437 seat venue.  Furthermore, they also compensated the actors and stage crew, who were paid for their vacation as if they had been playing a regular performance week.  Exactly what Univision used this space for is unclear, but press statements affirm that the network used the theatre for upfront presentations.

In anticipation of this dark period, the producers of Kinky Boots – Daryl Roth and Hal Luftig – adjusted the performance schedule in weeks leading up to the break.  As a result, the weekly gross reports show an extraordinary decline for Kinky Boots.  In the week ending May 11, 2014, the show only grossed $668,658.  Though this may not be that low for other shows, even for other musicals, that represented a loss for Kinky Boots of $808,892 from the week before, when it earned $1,477,550.  The highest weekly gross that the show has earned thus far is $2,247,240, when it played nine performances in the week ending December 29, 2013.  As for eight performance weeks, its weekly gross record is $1,912,568 from the week ending December 1, 2013, when it made an extraordinary 124.61% of its gross potential.  Nonetheless, the show has still been grossing well above one million dollars throughout all of 2014 so far, and it looks to continue to be a favorite pick among visitors to New York City.

“Casa Valentina” Begins Previews on Broadway

Tonight at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, previews will commence for the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Casa Valentina, a world premiere play written by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.  Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, the play will run for a limited engagement between April 1, 2014 and June 15, 2014, with the official opening night taking place on April 23, 2014.  Fierstein, who has seen enormous success in penning the book for musicals including Kinky Boots, Newsies, and La Cage aux Folles, has not had a straight play produced in almost thirty years.  Well, none of Harvey Fierstein’s content is ever “straight,” per say.

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

Casa Valentina is based on the true story of a group of New York men in the 1960s – white collar professionals with families – who vacationed in the Catskill Mountains during the summers.  Unlike most vacationers in that period, however, these men had a particular quirk: they dressed up as women.  Beyond assuming female wardrobe to a meticulous degree of detail, they also adopted the personalities of their female counterparts during the vacation.  While transvestitism has proliferated in our culture in many forms since that time, these men were truly transgressive, and yet they were still firmly embedded in conventional heterosexual culture in the course of their everyday lives.  The play introduces us to these unique individuals, and then follows them as they are confronted with a difficult choice: the opportunity to become an official organization, effectively outing their precious secret.

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

Just as interesting as the plot of the play, however, is the background of how this true story became uncovered.  Some time ago, a pair of antique collectors discovered a large collection of old photographs at a New York flea market.  When they realized that the gorgeous women depicted in the photographs were in fact men, which was not immediately obvious, they decided to publish them in a book entitled Casa Susanna.  The pictures alone tell the heartbreaking story of these conflicted souls.  However, what is exceedingly interesting is that none of the press releases about this new Broadway play refer to the original source material.

After purchasing the rights to this book of photographs, the producers Colin Callender, Robert Cole, and Frederick Zollo commissioned Harvey Fierstein to write a play based on the images.  To mitigate their risk in bringing an untried play directly to Broadway, they partnered with the Manhattan Theatre Club, and agreed to be credited as granting the production “by special arrangement.”  It is curious that the producers decided not only to change the name of the play to Casa Valentina from the original title of Casa Susanna, but also to neglect to mention the book of photographs in any press release.  Perhaps the reason was to protect the appearance of originality for Harvey Fierstein, and calling this a “world premiere” by Fierstein certainly implies that it was his idea in the first place, which it was not.

casa-susanna is the basis for the Casa Valentina Broadway Show

Of course, none of this background information would affect the quality of the play itself, which is to be seen in the coming weeks as previews unfold.  What does bode well is the extraordinary cast of Broadway stalwarts and up-and-comers, including Reed Birney, John Cullum, Gabriel Ebert, Larry Pine, and Patrick Page.  Under the skilled direction of Joe Mantello, and surely featuring Harvey Fierstein’s signature wit, this play could be a very exciting addition to the Broadway season.  Indeed, it would be a true achievement if Fierstein’s concocted narrative comes close to representing the understated yet superb beauty of the mysterious found photographs, which the producers of this play clearly do not want the audience to discover.

Kinky Boots, With Music By Cyndi Lauper, Coming to Broadway

Cyndi Lauper

Having already starred on Broadway as a performer, in the 2006 Roundabout Theatre Company revival of The Threepenny Opera, ’80s pop icon Cyndi Lauper now comes to Broadway as a songwriter.  Lauper has composed the score for a new musical version of the independent British film Kinky Boots, which is scheduled to open this Spring at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

Inspired by a true story, Kinky Boots tells the tale of a struggling shoemaker whose business is reinvigorated when it stops producing traditional men’s shoes and begins making flashy footwear aimed at the drag community.  The show’s book is written by Harvey Fierstein, who also penned the script for the current Broadway hit, NewsiesHairspray‘s Jerry Mitchell will provide both direction and choreography for the tuner.

Stark Sands (American Idiot) has been cast to star as Charlie Price, the young man who has taken on the difficult task of saving his family’s shoe factory.  Billy Porter (Miss Saigon) co-stars as Lola, the drag performer who helps Charlie to the realization that he can breathe new life into the business by fashioning shoes aimed at far more flaboyant buyers.

Kinky Boots will make its premiere at an out-of-town tryout in Chicago this autumn, before beginning preview performances at the Al Hirschfeld on Broadway on March 5.  The show’s official opening date is April 4.