“Lady Day” Recoups on Broadway

Continual Extensions, and a Financial Hit

microphoneLady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, the play with music starring Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday, has recouped its investment and will conclude its run having earned a substantial profit. Running at the modest sized Circle in the Square Theater since March 25, 2014, with its official opening on April 13, 2014, this production has been extended three times, and is now slated to run until September 21, 2014 (with a hiatus between September 1st to 7th). With a budget of $2.6 million, the play was performing only mediocrely at the box office until June, when Audra McDonald took home the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play. Since then, the show has taken in between 80 and 90% of its gross potential each week. The weekly grosses are lower than many other shows due to the small seating capacity of the theatre, but audience demand nevertheless allowed the show to enter profits.

Audra McDonald Draws in the Audiences

The critical response to the show was mixed, but reviewers unanimously lauded McDonald’s performance as Holiday at the end Actress singer Audra McDonald red carpet event black dressof her career. The plot piles in the more tragic elements of Holiday’s life, and some reviewers felt that this storytelling was contrived. However, McDonald – a favorite with theatregoers, Tony voters, and critics – was praised for her ability to tone down her magnificent voice to communicate the sadder period of Holiday’s career, and yet she still managed to convey a rich and expressive tone. The production, directed by Lonny Price, was nominated for one more Tony Award beyond McDonald’s, that for Best Sound Design of a Play (Steve Canyon Kennedy), which it did not win. The Tony committee deemed that the show was eligible for the award of Best Revival of a Play, which was controversial both because the play had never been done on Broadway, and because it is full of music. However, the committee felt it was best categorized as a play with music.

The Play’s History

Lady Day was written by Lanie Robertson with its original premiere in 1986 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. The play also ran Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 1986, running for 281 performances. The Broadway production, produced by Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel, was originally scheduled for a 10-week limited engagement, but awards recognition and audience support allowed the show to continually announce extensions. With many weeks now left to go, the show will conclude its run significantly in the black.

Recoupment on Broadway This Season

Several other shows have announced recoupment this season. Most recently, Of Mice and Men starring James Franco ended its run having passed the line into profits. A Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play, also made back its investment, while also performing excellently both critically and in terms of awards. Furthermore, All the Way starring Bryan Cranston recouped its investment, having won the Tony Award for Best Play. Finally, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is still running indefinitely after having won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, has already announced recoupment. This goes to show that in general, Tony Awards make a huge difference at the box office, especially for the four major awards (Best Play, Best Musical, Best Revival of a Play, and Best Revival of a Musical), as well as the Best Performance categories.

‘The Realistic Joneses’ Opens on Broadway

It’s not an easy time for a new play to thrive on Broadway.  The Realistic Joneses, which opened on April 6, 2014 to largely positive reviews, is still struggling to stay afloat at the box office.  This is the Broadway debut for playwright Will Eno, who is known for his less accessible but equally quirky Off-Broadway works such as Thom Pain (based on nothing) and Middletown.  The play premiered in May 2012 at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.  Both the regional and Broadway productions are directed by Sam Gold, whose remarkable career rise has confirmed him as the go-to director for adventurous new plays, especially those that feature a casual, realistic writing style.  Of the four actors in the cast, only one has remained for the transfer – Tracy Letts, who is the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of August: Osage County as well as the Tony Award winning actor from last year’s revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The Realistic Joneses on Broadway

The Realistic Joneses on Broadway

The other three roles are played by Toni Collette, who has been on Broadway once before in The Wild Party, Michael C. Hall, who has played Broadway musical leads in both Cabaret and Chicago, and Marisa Tomei, who has previously appeared in three Broadway plays: Top Girls, Salome, and Wait Until Dark.  Though all three actors are much better known for their film work, these names are by no means box office gold of the likes of Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe, or James Franco, who are presently competing for audience attention on Broadway, also in straight plays.  Whereas musicals can often survive on Broadway without Hollywood stars, especially if they feature a familiar title, plays rarely enter the greater national consciousness without a special boost.

Although The New York Times critic Charles Isherwood gave the play an unqualified rave, marking it as a Critics’ Pick, the box office was actually worse for this past week than the one preceding it.  For the week ending in April 6, 2014, gross ticket sales were $410,334, down $51,902 from the previous week.  However, it must be noted that the week leading up to a show’s opening includes numerous performances designated as “press performances,” for which complimentary tickets are offered to critics from a wide array of publications.  This would partly explain the lower gross, especially in light of the fact that the average ticket price also went down that week to $67.88 from $82.62 the week before.

The play is scheduled to run until July 6, 2014.  Its producers, Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel, often take gambles with shows that are not guaranteed slam dunks.  In this same season, they also are producing All the Way, a new play but with the box office support of its star Bryan Cranston, The Bridges of Madison County, a musical with a familiar title that is struggling to stay alive, and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, which features Broadway favorite Audra McDonald as the timeless favorite Billie Holiday.  Though The Realistic Joneses may be this producing team’s most risky show on Broadway right now, they have made a habit of mounting shows by recognized playwrights, which may or may not have stars.  In any case, it is to their credit that they manage to support new writing in a climate where few dare to take such ventures, seeking to overcome the bias against plays without megastars.

The Glass Menagerie Concludes Its Run On Broadway

The Glass MenagerieThe critically lauded revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie finished its 24-week Broadway run this past Sunday, February 23rd 2014.  Starring Zachary Quinto (Angels in America, TV’s Heroes) as Tom, two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones (The Heiress, Doubt) as his mother Amanda, Celia Keenan-Bolger (Peter and the Starcatcher) as his sister Laura, and Brian J. Smith (The Columnist) as the gentleman caller Jim, the production swept critics and audiences away with an essentially perfect record of critical acclaim.  Following its opening on September 26, 2013, audiences flocked to the theatre, allowing the show to recoup its $2.6 million investment with seven weeks remaining to reap profits.

Revivals are not always successful on Broadway, as it takes a truly eloquent reimagining for an older work to strike a chord with critics and audiences alike.  Director John Tiffany, who along with his award-winning design team from Once, crafted a magnificent recreation of Williams’ vision by surrounding the Wingfield family apartment with a pool of reflective black liquid.  The play made numerous top 10 lists at the end of 2013, celebrating this as a landmark production of the American masterpiece.

The production attracted a wide demographic due to the play’s classic status and national familiarity.  With its original New York production in 1945, this play became the first major work by Tennessee Williams and has now been produced a total of seven times on Broadway.  Williams is also renowned for plays such as the Pulitzer Prize winning A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, both of which have been revived numerous times, including in the past two years.  The Glass Menagerie was also adapted into two Hollywood films; the more well-known version, directed by Paul Newman in 1987, starred Joanne Woodward (Amanda), Karen Allen (Laura), John Malkovich (Tom), and James Naughton (Jim).

Williams is known as an autobiographical writer; as legendary director and frequent Williams collaborator Elia Kazan once said, “Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life.”  The Glass Menagerie is understood to mimic his life even more so than his other writing, as Williams (whose real first name is Tom) grew up with his neurotic, Southern belle mother not unlike the character Amanda, and his older sister named Rose who, like the character Laura, suffered from physical and mental instability throughout her life.  In writing this piece, Williams coined the term “memory play,” granting a poetic freedom to real life that has enabled this work to be particularly resonant.

This production transferred to Broadway from its original staging at Boston’s American Repertory Theatre, produced by Jeffrey Richards, John N. Hart, Jr., and Jerry Frankel.  The frequent producing team Richards and Frankel are represented this upcoming spring season with the following productions: Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way starring Bryan Cranston; Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Bridges of Madison County starring Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale; Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses starring Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, and Marisa Tomei; and Lonny Price’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill starring Audra McDonald.