“Rocky the Musical” Closes on August 17th

Boxing and Singing Prove a Confusing Combination for Audiences

rocky the musical on BroadwayRocky the Musical, based off the renowned film of the same name, has announced a premature closing on Broadway.  The musical began previews on February 13, 2014, and had its official opening on March 13, 2014.  It will close on Sunday, August 17, 2014, after only 28 preview performances and 180 regular performances.  With a hefty budget of $16.5 million, that means the musical will certainly close at an extraordinary loss.  It would have had to run for at least a year with excellent sales in order to recoup, so this represents a significant disappointment for the show’s producers, who were expecting this to be a huge hit.  After a slam dunk run in Hamburg, Germany, the show transferred to Broadway, where it received only mixed reviews.  The director, Alex Timbers, is one of Broadway’s darlings, having sprung onto the scene at a young age, and already directed several shows on Broadway including Peter and the Starcatcher, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and The Pee-wee Herman Show.  Nevertheless, his theatrical ingenuity was not enough to spur sales on a show that was perhaps dissonant with the usual Broadway demographic.

Another Flop for Stage Entertainment

Rocky is a very ambitious show from a technical perspective.  In the final extended musical number, an entire boxing ring even rocky golden circlesprung up in the middle of the orchestra, requiring some audience members to re-seat.  This spectacle was certainly astonishing for theatergoers, but unfortunately spectacle alone did not send ticketbuyers flying to the box office.  The disappointment is particularly severe for the show’s producers, the international theatre presenters Stage Entertainment who have seen several Broadway flops in recent years, including Sister Act and Big Fish.  Though Stage Entertainment has reaped significant financial success from many of their European productions, Broadway is proving a harder nut to crack.  Still, the show is likely to go on a national tour, which raises the question of how to transport the heavy scenic elements on the road, and it is also sure to have a series of regional productions.  These further runs will contribute to financial revenue for the producers, though the show will still likely be a long way off from proving a financial success.

Recent Weeks Show Financial Promise, But to No Avail

Grosses at the Winter Garden Theatre have shown an upsurge since the closing announcement was made in mid-July.  In the week ending August 10, 2014, the show brought in a gross of $795,275, which was an increase of $27,756 from the week before.  In the week before that, the show demonstrated an increase of $65,714, and before that there was an increase of $27,742.  Therefore, the show has been on a steady increase in ticket sales in the last month.  This shows that there is an audience for the show, but unfortunately ticketbuyers did not prioritize this purchase amongst the slew of Broadway options to choose from.  Perhaps they expected the show to stick around for longer, but now that there is not much time left to catch the performance, they are pulling out their wallets.  Unfortunately, this demonstration of interest came too late for Rocky the Musical, which may have had a chance given another few months for the brand to pick up and for word of mouth to spread.

Shubert Organization Plans to Purchase New World Stages

Just One Block From Broadway

new world stagesThe Shubert Organization, the most powerful Broadway landlord which presently owns 17 of the 40 Broadway theatres, has disclosed that it plans to purchase New World Stages, an Off-Broadway theatre “mall” on West 50th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.  New World Stages comprises five venues ranging in size from 199 to 499 seats, and has become a home for retired Broadway shows looking to extend their runs in smaller, more affordable venues, as well as for try-outs of new shows that are looking to avoid the high production and labor costs required by Broadway union contracts.  Presently running at the complex is Avenue Q, which transferred there seamlessly following its Broadway run and is still enjoying success, as well as Heathers, a new musical based on the film of the same name which has never been on Broadway.  Other shows running at the space include The Gazillion Bubble Show, Stalking the Bogeyman, and iLuminate.  Past Broadway transfers to the space include Million Dollar Quartet and Peter and the Starcatcher.

Presently Owned by “Rocky” Producers Stage Entertainment

In its current form, New World Stages opened in 2004 when Dodger Theatricals spent $23 million to convert a flopped discount movie house into the theatre mall, complete with 5 venues as well as three bars and ample restroom space.  The complex is presently owned by Joop van den Ende, the Dutch billionaire whose international production entity Stage Entertainment was behind the Broadway shows Sister Act and Rocky, and is presently developing a musical adaptation of the 1997 animated film AnastasiaRocky will close on August 17, 2014 at a significant financial loss, but this is unrelated as Stage Entertainment began exploring this sale over a year ago in an effort to focus their attention on developing and producing Broadway shows, rather than serving as part-time landlord for an Off-Broadway house.  The Shubert sale has not been finalized, but it has been confirmed by Shubert CEO Phil Smith and is expected to occur within a year for an amount of seven figures.

Joop van den Ende of Stage Entertainment

Joop van den Ende of Stage Entertainment

A New Angle on Off-Broadway for the Shuberts

The Shubert Organization has entered the realm of Off-Broadway before, but never to outstanding success.  In the early 1990s, it partnered with producer-manager Ben Sprecher (who was also behind the infamous Rebecca) to convert a former East Village porno house into the Variety Arts Theatre.  However, that venture flopped in 2005 and the property was torn down.  A greater but still not astounding success was the Shubert’s effort to build their own Off-Broadway house, the 499-seat Little Shubert Theatre on West 42nd Street.  Despite the success of neighboring Off-Broadway institutions such as Playwrights Horizons, the Signature Theatre, and the New Group performing at the Acorn on Theatre Row, the Little Shubert has had difficulty attracting quality content.  Nevertheless, this purchase of New World Stages would be a different kind of Off-Broadway venture for the Shuberts, particularly because of the venue’s already established reputation for serving as a kind of retirement home for Broadway shows that still have some life in them.  By applying the company’s already established management structure to this new theatre, the Shubert Organization will be able to streamline costs and broker seamless transitions for shows that may benefit from the opportunity to downsize.

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.