For many years, a Broadway show producers lament has been “What’s more difficult than making a straight play on Broadway financially successful? Making a straight man buy tickets to a Broadway show.”
Traditionally, heterosexual adult males have been an elusive demographic for Broadway. In the Broadway League’s newly released survey of the 2012-2013 season, it was found that 68 percent of audience members were female, which reflects a trend that has existed for decades. Though little research has been done into the sexual orientation of Broadway audiences, it is clear from phenomenological observation that gay male theatre-goers are not hard to come by.
Straight men, however, are a rarer sight – according to a recent survey, 82 percent of heterosexual males who saw Broadway shows ended up going either because their partner made them or because someone else had bought the tickets.
Nevertheless, producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo have taken up this challenge three times in the past four years. In mounting three plays by Eric Simonson that deal directly with sports-related content, they have aimed to woo straight men to the theatre. Lombardi, a story about the eponymous football player, played at the Circle in the Square Theatre from 2010-2011; this show completed a successful run of 244 performances and is now being adapted into a film by Legendary Pictures. However, their last two attempts with Simonson sports plays (Magic/Bird in 2012 and Bronx Bombers in 2014) both incurred major financial losses. Bronx Bombers, which just announced its premature closing last week, recouped only 24 percent of its $3 million capitalization and averaged only 63 percent capacity throughout its short run.
Sports is not the only subject that producers have undertaken in order to attract straight men to the audience. Politics is another male-dominated topic. This upcoming Broadway season includes one promising political play – Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way, which tells the behind-the-scenes story of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency during the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to its manly themes of power and justice, the Broadway production stars Bryan Cranston, who is well-known for his role in AMC’s Breaking Bad – a record-breaking hit television show and a favorite with men in particular. Box office wraps for this play were strong enough to land it in the top 10 last week, though it is still in previews. Other recent Broadway favorites on political themes include Frost/Nixon in 2007 and Gore Vidal’s The Best Man in 2012, both of which succeeded in recouping their investments.
Still, the playing field is open for wildcard topics to draw in the straight male audience. For instance, Rock of Ages, with its head-banging 80’s rock score, has proved successful with this demographic. Furthermore, both Monty Python’s Spamalot, which grossed more than $175 million over 1,500 performances between 2005 and 2009, and The Book of Mormon, running at full capacity with top box office grosses since 2011, provide an irreverent brand of comedy that appeals to the heterosexual male population. Despite these successes, however, it still remains a challenge for producers to attract straight men to their theatres.