Bronx Bombers Closes Early. Machinal Closes As Planned.

On Sunday, March 2, 2014, Bronx Bombers shuttered its doors at the Circle in the Square Theatre, less than a month after its official opening on February 6, 2014.  A new American play by Eric Simonson, who also penned recent Broadway sports-themed shows Lombardi and Magic/Bird, Bronx Bombers tells the story of Yogi Berra and his wife Carmen, bringing a century of Yankee star players to the stage.  Unlike with his previous two plays, this time Simonson also directed.

The play had a pre-Broadway limited run at bronx bombersthe Duke on 42nd Street Theatre from September 17, 2014 to October 19, 2014, produced by Primary Stages.  Broadway producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, who were also behind Lombardi and Magic/Bird, transferred the play to Broadway with previews beginning January 10, 2014.  The Broadway production was also produced in association with The New York Yankees and Major League Baseball Properties.

The Broadway production starred Peter Scolari (Lucky Guy, Magic/Bird) as Yogi Berra and Tracy Shayne (Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera) as Carmen Berra, and the cast also included Francois Battiste as Reggie Jackson and Elston Howard, Chris Henry Coffey as Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dawes as Mickey Mantle and Thurman Munson, Christopher Jackson as Derek Jeter and Bobby Sturges, Keith Nobbs as Billy Martin, John Wernke as Lou Gehrig, and C.J. Wilson as Babe Ruth.

This premature closing follows a pattern of unsuccessful shows that cater to the heterosexual male theatergoer.  According to a Broadway League audience survey conducted during the 2012 to 2013 season, 68 percent of Broadway attendees were female, which reflects the fact that male-directed content has trouble staying afloat on Broadway.  Simonson’s previous attempt Magic/Bird, which told the story of rivalry and friendship between basketball players Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, closed in 2012 after only 23 previews and 38 performances.  Though his football play Lombardi played for a respectable 31 previews and 244 performances between 2010 and 2011, it appears the demographic for these sports dramas became saturated more quickly than the producers had projected.

The play was capitalized at a little under $3 million, which was surely not recouped in only 31 previews and 29 performances.  Though the property may have a regional life and also earn some money through amateur rights licensing, it will likely never make back its initial investment.  It is interesting to consider the possible reasons behind the producers’ logic in trying their hand at another sports play by the same writer so soon after a comparable flop.

ny yankees

Though the play was produced in association with the Yankees and Major League Baseball, it is possible that their contribution was not monetary but only one of permission.  Perhaps if these organizations had not been involved, the play would have been able to enter into more controversial territory, upping the stakes for dramatic tension and allowing for a more compelling story.  Still, it is possible that the opportunity for these partnerships alone was enough to convince the producers that the transfer was one worth pursuing.

More importantly, the Off-Broadway run at the Duke on 42nd Street received fairly negative reviews – the New York Times said, “The Yankees… deserve better than this mawkish and sappy effort, which brings new meaning to the phrase ‘high cheese.’” – so they could not have been relying on a stellar critical response to sell the Broadway run.  Furthermore, with no A-list actors leading the cast, the producers could not have been banking on star power to move tickets.

Therefore, the producers must have been relying on nothing but sheer hope that the overlap of Broadway ticket-buyers who were also interested in baseball was more robust that those who were also interested in basketball.  Unfortunately, this unscientific reasoning proved fallible, as Bronx Bombers did not manage to overcome all the odds against it.

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In other news, the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Machinal also concluded its limited engagement on its scheduled closing date of Sunday, March 2, 2014.

The play ran from December 20, 2013 at the American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street, and it officially opened on January 16, 2014.  It played 28 preview performances and 52 regular performances.  Starring Rebecca Hall and directed by Lindsay Turner, Machinal is a revival of Sophie Treadwell’s play which first premiered in 1928 starring a young Clark Gable in his Broadway debut.

Inspired by the infamous 1927 murder trial of Ruth Snyder, Machinal is the story of a young stenographer (played by Hall) who did not bargain for the unfulfilling life offered by the male-dominated industrial world of 1920s America.  With a passionless marriage and an unwanted child, she winds up in an extramarital affair and ends up resorting to extreme means to maintain her freedom.  This production received generally positive reviews.  Ben Brantley of The New York Times called the revival “intensely stylish,” the play “fascinating,” and Rebecca Hall “illuminating.”  New York Magazine called the production “superb,” and The Hollywood Reporter lauded Hall for choosing such a “challenging” piece to make her Broadway debut.

The cast also included Suzanne Bertish, Morgan Spector, Michael Cumpsty, Damian Baldet, Ashley Bell, Jeff Biehl, Arnie Burton, Ryan Dinning, Scott Drummond, Dion Graham, Edward James Hyland, Jason Loughlin, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Daniel Pearce, Henny Russell, Karen Walsh, and Michael Warner.  The creative team included Es Devlin as the scenic designer, Michael Krass as the costume designer, Jane Cox as the lighting designer, and Matt Tierney as the sound designer.

Unlike commercial Broadway productions, Machinal benefited from being produced by the not-for-profit Roundabout Theatre Company, which released it from the usual tight constraints of a financially successful play on Broadway.  This production of a lesser known title did not feature any huge A-list stars and only played a short run, yet it did not need to be as concerned with making back its entire capitalization due to the buffer of the not-for-profit endowment.