The Critical and Commercial Hit Says Goodbye for Now
On March 11, 2013, Motown the Musical began previews at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, a coveted Broadway house owned by the Nederlander organization. Its opening night was on April 14, 2013, where it received a round of highly positive reviews from critics. Since that time, the musical has played to generally full houses and financial success. The reportedly $18 million musical announced that it would recoup its capitalization by the time it closed, which happened this past week on January 18, 2015 after playing 738 performances (and 37 preview performances). The show was a regular member of the million dollar club on the weekly gross charts, but sales softened in the last season. With very high running costs reaching around $850,000, there was a lot of pressure to sell a full house of full price tickets in order to stay afloat. With that accomplished, the production has decided to shutter this present Broadway incarnation, focusing for the next 18 months on the London production and touring productions. Having decided to depart before sales turned sour, the musical will be thought of as a complete success.
More importantly, the producers have learned that they can mount the show with lower running costs. In the Broadway production, there are 41 performers in addition to 18 in the orchestra, but they found that the touring production was as much of a hit with only 33 actors and 15 in the pit. Though the producers do not plan on mounting the same pared down touring production when the show returns to Broadway in July 2016, the show may end up in the middle of those two versions. This will allow the production to lower its running costs, sustaining its endurance on Broadway for perhaps several or even many years longer. Of course, this is the goal of almost all musical producers: to have their show run as long as possible. It appears that in this case, the show’s creators determined that they would last longer if they took a breather. They made a deal with Nick Scandalios, a top executive in the Nederlander organization, who promised to give Motown a Nederlander theatre (no promises which) when it returns in July 2016. The reason the landlord agreed is that this allowed them to open up the desirable Lunt-Fontanne, which many other productions – including Harvey Weinstein’s Finding Neverland – are vying for.
In the Meantime, London and U.S. National Tour
The London production of this hit musical is planned to open this upcoming summer 2015. Employing another cost-saving strategy, the producers have decided to use the Broadway costumes and sets in the West End. If the London show is a hit beyond July 2016, they will likely have to make or acquire new sets and costumes, but that window leaves enough time for the show to open and close if it cannot find its legs in the West End. Either way, it is a smart strategy given the odds. In addition, the U.S. tour is ongoing and has just left Chicago. The first U.S. tour grossed $20 million over the course of 16 weeks, so the producers have a reason to be optimistic about the future of this musical, even if the Broadway production is temporarily closed.