“Once” to Close on January 4, 2015

The Little Irish Musical That Could

poster Once Broadway Musical white black guitarThe 2012 Tony Award winning Best Musical Once has scheduled its closing date: January 4, 2015. This marks the culmination of a true success story for this simple show dealing with complex emotions. The journey began with the 2007 musical film of the same name that was written, composed, and performed by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The stage adaptation with book by Enda Walsh, music and lyrics by Hansard and Irglova, direction by John Tiffany, and movement by Steven Hoggett began its New York life Off-Broadway at the East Village’s New York Theatre Workshop. Ecstatic reviews allowed the show to transfer to Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, where it began performances on February 28, 2012 and opened on March 18, 2012. It entered a competitive season filled with large-scale musicals with brand recognition such as Evita, Porgy and Bess, Newsies, and Nice Work If You Can Get It. Nevertheless, Once stood out from the pack due to its relatable story, brilliant score, beautifully subtle performances, and magical orchestral staging, and it took home eight Tony Awards, including the coveted honor of Best Musical.

The Future for “Once”

Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee in Once the Broadway Show

Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee in “Once”

In addition to its New York productions, Once began its run in London’s West End in March 2013, and it is scheduled to run there until March 2015. That followed a pre-West End run in Dublin, Ireland in February 2013 where it received much acclaim. Furthermore, the United States national tour began in October 2013, and it is scheduled to continue until August 2015. Recently, on September 26, 2014, a production of Once opened in Melbourne, Australia, where it is scheduled to run until November 16, 2014. Also in late November of this year, the cast from the U.S. tour will fly to Japan for an engagement of several weeks. Though this will be in English, there are future plans for a Japanese language version as well. The first foreign language production of Once will commence in Seoul, South Korea in December. Furthermore, a production is scheduled to begin in February 2015 in Toronto, Canada. Other countries on the horizon for Once include Holland, Greece, Thailand, Brazil, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Ireland – the last two of which directly relate to the cultural exploration in the show itself.

With Decreasing Grosses, Closing Was Only a Matter of Time

After cleaning up at the Tony Awards, Once regularly brought in over one million dollars each week in the middle and end of 2012. In 2013, the show’s grosses began in the $900,000 range, soon decreased to $800,000 and then $700,000, and then fluctuated between the $500,000 and $700,000 range through to the beginning of 2014. Over the course of this year, however, grosses have been more in the $400,000 to $500,000 range per week, and the show even reached the low of $355,062 in the week ending September 28, 2014. On October 7, 2014, the show’s closing date was announced. Though the musical has already recouped its capitalization and has been earning profits, with such low weekly grosses it has become difficult for Once to meet its weekly running costs and justify remaining open. However, with many other profitable productions in the pipeline, the producers and creators are sure to continue to profit from their fantastic achievement. And it is also very likely that grosses will rise in the last few months of the run, as ticketbuyers realize this may be their last chance to see Once on Broadway anytime soon.

“The Last Ship” Begins Previews on Broadway

Sting’s Debut as a Musical Theatre Composer

the last shipThe 16-time Grammy Award winning musician Sting has written his first musical: The Last Ship. Set in an English seafaring town called Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, the musical is based off some of Sting’s own childhood experiences. The protagonist is a young man named Gideon Fletcher, who grew up in this shipping town but dreams of a different life for himself. Though he is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, he decides to leave home and take a trip around the world. 14 years later, he returns home to discover that the industry is in dire straits, and meanwhile that his childhood sweetheart has found another man to be her fiancé. Gideon, along with the men of the town, endeavors to build one last ship, proving to themselves and to the world that they have power within them.

The Show’s Pre-Broadway Life

The first recorded instance of the show being performed was an early try-out in Newcastle, England at the Live Theatre. More recently, the show was given a pre-Broadway run at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre from June 10, 2014 until July 13, 2014. Previews have now begun at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre, with the first performance having taken place on September 29, 2014. Opening night is scheduled for October 26, 2014. Reviews in Chicago were less than ecstatic. The book was written by John Logan (Red, I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers) and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then), but despite the pedigree of these writers, many found the libretto to be implausible, and the story to be dreary. Fans have come to expect that a musical will be somewhat upbeat, and perhaps the story of this struggling English shipping town is not America’s cup of tea.

Cast and Creative Team

sting

Sting

In addition to the book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, and the music and lyrics by Sting, the show is directed by Joe Mantello (Casa Valentina, Other Desert Cities, Glengarry Glen Ross) and choreographed by Steven Hoggett (Once, Rocky, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time). Though this is Sting’s first musical, he has previously ventured out of traditional songwriting territory when co-writing the score for the 2000 Disney animated film The Emperor’s New Groove. Furthermore, Sting released a musical album in 2013 entitled The Last Ship, which features music from the musical, or originally intended for it. He had not released an album prior to that since 2003 with Sacred Love, and credits the show for motivating him to craft a new slew of songs. The cast features Broadway favorites including Michael Esper (The Lyons, American Idiot) and Aaron Lazar (A Little Night Music, The Light in the Piazza), as well as West End star Rachel Tucker making her Broadway debut. Further cast members include Jimmy Nail, Fred Applegate, Sally Ann Triplett, and Collin Kelly-Sordelet.

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.