“Doctor Zhivago” Concludes Run Early

Shuttered After Only 26 Previews and 23 Regular Performances

doctor zhivagoOn May 10, 2015, Doctor Zhivago played its last performance in a very short Broadway run, which began with the first preview on March 27, 2015. After the opening night on April 21, 2015, it became clear that Doctor Zhivago would not be surviving based on the commendation of the critics, as there was almost unanimous agreement that the show was not very good. Based on Boris Pasternak’s novel from 1957 of the same name, and immortalized on screen in the 1965 film directed by David Lean and starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif, this epic musical set during the Russian Revolution just couldn’t cut it in this competitive Broadway season. Playing at the Broadway Theatre, the show was directed by Des McAnuff (700 Sundays, Jersey Boys, Jesus Christ Superstar), and choreographed by Kelly Devine (Rocky, Rock of Ages). In addition, the book is written by Michael Weller (Spoils of War, Loose Ends), with music by Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden), and lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) and Amy Powers (Sunset Boulevard). Still, the pedigree of its creative team could not save this musical, which failed to receive any Tony nominations or pull any significant weight at the box office.

Unanimous Discontent Among Critics and Tony Votersdoctor zhivago

This show was the third to announce its closing following disappointing results from the Tony nominations. The first was Living on Love, which also received zero, and the second was The Heidi Chronicles, which only received one nomination for Elisabeth Moss, in the category of Best Actress in a Lead Role in a Play. Even with poor critical response, Tony recognition can sometimes save a show just enough by boosting its renown among theatregoers. In this case, Doctor Zhivago had no luck in either account. When the reviews came out, all major critics gave it a thumbs down. Charles Isherwood at The New York Times asked in his review, “Is it over yet?”, proclaiming the show to be turgid, baggy, and expositional. Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter compared it to a poor man’s Les Miserables. David Cote of Time Out New York did the same, referring to Doctor Zhivago as a pale juggernaut in comparison. Jesse Green from Vulture wanted to affirm once and for all that sprawling European novels do not make good musicals, as evidenced by this failure. Furthermore, Joe Dziemianowicz from the New York Daily News called it an “epic miss.”

Struggles at the Box Office

In the show’s last week of performances, the week ending May 10, 2015, Doctor Zhivago reached its peak at the box office, which amounted to $537,474. That represented only 44.79% of its gross potential. With a top ticket price of $247.00, the average paid admission that week was $62.66. Even with such discounting, the average audience capacity was only 72.5%. Though these numbers are not as dire as some other shows that continue to run, the producers made the decision to close the show upon the announcement of the Tony nominations, as they could not imagine the musical gaining any more traction. With a capitalization of $12 million, the show was reported to have brought in a total gross of less than $2.7 million, not to mention running costs. However, there is still hope for the 50 odd producers, many of them first-time Broadway producers convinced to invest in this production, as the show may be able to make back some of its money on further productions and tours, both nationally and internationally. At least, the brand name should hold some weight on tours around the world.

“Doctor Zhivago” Begins Performances

Based on the 1957 Novel by Boris Pasternak

doctor zhivagoOn March 27, 2015, Doctor Zhivago began previews at the Broadway Theatre. Based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak, this new musical first premiered in 2006 at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. In 2011, Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys, 700 Sundays, Guys and Dolls) took the helm as director for a touring production in Australia. That production received excellent reviews, finishing up its tour in Melbourne and then Brisbane. This 2015 Broadway production is also directed by Des McAnuff. In addition to the stage adaptation, Pasternak’s novel was adapted into a film in 1965 directed by David Lean, which won five Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. The musical has a book by Michael Weller (Spoils of War, Loose Ends, Moonchildren), music by Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden), and lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) and Amy Powers (Sunset Boulevard). This creative team therefore has an impressive pedigree, and the beautiful score shows this talent thoroughly. The Broadway production is choreographed by Kelly Devine (Rocky, Memphis, Rock of Ages). Official opening night is scheduled for April 21, 2015.

A Love Story from the Russian Revolution to World War Idoctor zhivago

Doctor Zhivago is epic in scope, set against the backdrop of a crucial period in Russian history, and yet it is deeply personal – telling the story of a woman loved by three men and a man loved by two women.  Lucy Simon’s score is as gorgeous as it is varied – the songs are stirring, sometimes even mesmerizing, and they help enormously to move this tale along efficiently and powerfully. The characters evolve over a long period of history; Lara (Kelli Barrett) is a vibrant and visceral female lead, as she undergoes significant development but always keeps her strong will. The role of Yurii Zhivago is played by Tam Mutu, making his Broadway debut. The fascinating role of Pasha is played by Paul Alexander Nolan, and he recurs in Act II as the vengeful Strelnikov. Other roles are played by Jacqueline Antaramian, Lora Lee Gayer, Sophia Gennusa, Jonah Halperin, Jamie Jackson, and Tom Hewitt (The Rocky Horror Show). Ultimately, this is a rich and compelling piece – it is a story of war and retraction of basic human rights, as well as love against all odds and devotion to artistic expression – compounded with a powerful score and a vastly recognizable title.

Presently at the Box Office

In the last reported week of box office figures, the week ending April 19, 2015, Doctor Zhivago brought in $464,613, which represents 41.48% of its gross potential. That remained almost exactly the same from the week before, which brought in 41.78% of its gross potential, though with one more performance. The audience capacity also remained fairly steady, increasing from 75.4% to 78.3%. However, the following week will incorporate the first post-opening figures, and it will remain to be seen whether the notices in the papers and online will contribute to theatregoers’ excitement about this piece, or whether the institution of Doctor Zhivago may not hold interest in this competitive Broadway season.

Rocky Opens at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre

Rocky, a new musical based on the 1976 film of the same name, had its official opening last night on Broadway.  With an original score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on This Island, Anastasia), and a libretto by Thomas Meehan (The Producers, Hairspray, Annie) in collaboration with Sylvester Stallone, Rocky is directed by Alex Timbers (Here Lies Love, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher). 

rocky the musical on BroadwayProduced by the international theatre powerhouse Stage Entertainment, Rocky premiered in Hamburg, Germany in 2012 in a German language production, where it is still running today.  In its newly translated English version, the Broadway production now occupies the Winter Garden Theatre, where Mamma Mia! played from 2001 to 2013 (Mamma Mia! is now continuing its run at the Broadhurst Theatre).

When the film came out in 1976, Sylvester Stallone was relatively unknown.  After writing the script and starring as the fictional boxing hero Rocky Balboa, Stallone launched to fame, and went on to write, star, and also direct four subsequent sequels.  (The first film as well as Rocky V were directed by John G. Avildsen.)  The original Rocky, which was made on the shoestring budget of under $1 million, became the highest grossing film of 1976, and the franchise has since earned over $1.1 billion worldwide.  Sylvester Stallone is also the second billed producer after Stage Entertainment of Rocky the Musical, which has a production budget of approximately $15 million.  Because of its successful run in Hamburg, whose budget of $20 million included development expenses, Rocky the Musical was able to avoid an American pre-Broadway tryout and economize for a lean Broadway budget.

Starring Andy Karl as Rocky, Margo Seibert as Adrian, Terence Archie as Apollo Creed, Dakin Matthews as Mickey, and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Paulie, this musical is not relying on A-list Hollywood stars to sell its tickets, a luxury generally reserved for musicals rather than plays.  The director Alex Timbers, who is only 35 years old, is often referred to as the “boy genius” of theatre, as his whirlwind career thus far includes two Tony Award nominations and four Broadway directing credits, including Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson for which he also wrote the book.  As for his writing, Timbers is known for a quirky and often irreverent style, but for Rocky which he only directs, his skills are most visible in terms of the magic of technical design employed onstage, especially in the adrenaline-charged closing number bolstered by the choreography of Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine.

In fact, Ben Brantley of The New York Times praised this closing number and little else, going as far as to claim the show doesn’t even begin until over 2 hours after its curtain time.  Reviewers were generally mixed – Entertainment Weekly and The New York Post gave it raves, but the Hollywood Reporter called its score “unmemorable” and AM New York made fun of how its musicality undermined the serious story at its core.  Still, the success of the show’s last 15 minutes was basically unanimous, and critics also largely agreed that Alex Timbers’ direction was innovative, the technical elements were unique, and the emotional impact of the classic underdog story was indestructible.

In terms of box office sales, the show has not been knocking it out of the park.  In the last week of previews, the average discount ticket price was a low $66.29, though premium seats were sold for as high as $248.00, reaching only 43.65 percent of its gross potential.  Still, national awareness has just been augmented by wide press coverage, and the brand power of this movie franchise will most likely overshadow any ambivalence in critical praise.  In any case, it is undoubtedly one of the more buzz-generating Broadway shows opening this season, and we may expect to see these numbers increase in the coming weeks.