“The River” Concludes Its Run

An Unqualified Success Both Critically and Commercially

hugh jackmanOn February 8, 2015, The River concludes its run at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway. It has been running since its first preview on October 31, 2014, with its official opening night taking place on November 16, 2014. The small-scale play starred Hugh Jackman along with Laura Donnelly and Cush Jumbo, the latter two who are British actresses making their Broadway debuts. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, is a huge Broadway name, as well as a magnificent actor commended for his work on both stage and screen, musical and dramatic. It is no question that Jackman’s stature contributed to the vast success of this show at the box office, but the unmatchable quality of the production precedes him. The play is written by Jez Butterworth, an English writer whose previous Broadway production, Jerusalem, starred Mark Rylance and received rave reviews in both London and New York. Like Jerusalem, The River is also directed by Ian Rickson, and also produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, both of whom have a secure reputation for producing only works of the finest quality.

A Profitable Production, Plus a T-Shirt Auction for Charityhugh jackman laura donnelly

After just seven weeks of performances, The River recouped its $3.2 million capitalization and entered profitmaking territory. This is especially impressive given the intimate size of the Circle in the Square Theatre, which seats just 776 audience members, by far smaller than most all other houses on Broadway. With just three actors and one set staged “in the thrust,” the show still had a moderately high budget for a play, presumably due to the star salary required by Jackman’s representation. However, this was no challenge for this dramatically compelling and intellectually provocative work of art, as it attracted as much money as it did praise. In addition, the creative team decided to incorporate an innovative strategy into their efforts to raise money for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS. Whereas most shows in this season raise money merely with a post-show speech and some plastic buckets held by supporting cast members, Jackman took center stage once again following his bow to conduct a crowd-pleasing auction. The item for sale was none other than the t-shirt he wore each night. The winner also earned the chance to go backstage with him briefly to receive it. Of the $5.2 million record-breaking amount that this organization earned from the totality of Broadway shows, The River contributed a miraculous $550,000. In one high profile example, Taylor Swift attended the show with her family on Christmas Eve, and purchased his t-shirt for $6,000. Jackman matched that amount himself, and another audience member bought his belt for $2,000.

Proof that Quality-Driven Productions Can Thrive on Broadway

It is to the credit of the marvelous Sonia Friedman Productions that plays like The River can even come to Broadway in the first place, not to mention earn vast profits and critical praise. This is an example of expert producing, which is an underappreciated artform perfectly illustrated in this case. Sonia is an advocate of the artist, and that is why Jez Butterworth’s play and works directed by Ian Rickson time and again are produced by her company. It is not only a matter of seducing the perfect star, in this case Hugh Jackman, but it is also demonstrating a true appreciation for good art that allows these artistic relationships to thrive. It is certainly not an easy balance to strike, but The River has proved that this recipe does exist; it just takes experience, dedication, and excellent taste.

Broadway Fall 2014 Line-Up Falling into Place

This fall looks to be an exciting one on Broadway!  Let’s face it – every new season is pretty exciting.  But with the Tony Awards still a month away to commend the brilliant plays and musicals of the 2013-2014 season, announcements are already being made for shows to open next fall.

It was recently announced that Hugh Jackman will be returning to Broadway this fall in Jez Butterworth’s play The River.  Jez Butterworth’s work was last seen on Broadway with the 2011 production of Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance, directed by Ian Rickson, and prohugh jackmanduced by London-based powerhouse theatre production company Sonia Friedman Productions.  Sonia Friedman will be shepherding a Butterworth play once again, after having watched over its production at the Royal Court Theatre, where Jerusalem also premiered.  The partnership between Ian Rickson and Jez Butterworth also holds strong, as Rickson is on board to direct this play.  The River is about a loner on a remote island and the two women in his life, who will be played by British actresses Laura Donnelly and Cush Jumbo.  The River will begin performances at the Circle in the Square Theatre on October 31, 2014.  A favorite of the Great White Way, Hugh Jackman sold out his 2011 one-man show Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, and he will host the Tony Awards this year for the fourth time.

In addition to the proven partnership between director Ian Rickson and playwright Jez Butterworth, another fall show will see the recurrence of a proven Broadway partnership, this time between two beloved actors.  Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who famously co-starred in 2001’s The Producers, will join forces this fall for a Terrence McNally play called It’s Only a Play, directed by Jack O’Brien.  Like The Producers, It’s Only a Play is also a comedy based in the world of show biz.  Having premiered at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1986, It’s Only a Play is the story of a nervous playwright (Broderick) at the opening night party for a play he has written, and his interactions with his backstabbing friend (Lane).  Produced by Tom Kirdahy, who is married to Terrence McNally, the play will begin performances in September at a theatre yet to be announced.

Producer Scott Rudin also has a starry play up his sleeve for this fall.  This Is Our Youth, written by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret, The Starry Messenger) first premiemichael cera kieran culkinred Off-Broadway in a production by The New Group in 1996.  The play centers on three aimless teenagers in New York City, and this Broadway production will star Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson.  Directed by Anna D. Shapiro (Motherf**ker with the Hat), the show will have an out-of-town pre-Broadway run at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago over the summer, and it will then transfer to Broadway’s Cort Theatre with performances beginning August 18, 2014.  Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin also appeared in their same roles in an Australian production of this play in 2012, directed by Mark Brokaw.

Further fall productions that have been announced include Simon Stephens’ play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is a transfer from London’s National Theatre via the West End.  The play will occupy the Ethel Barrymore Theatre with previews beginning September 15, 2014.  In addition, The Country House by Donald Margulies will star Blythe Danner at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, with previews beginning September 9, 2014 in a Manhattan Theatre Club production.  Finally, it has also been announced that a production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing will play at the American Airlines Theatre in a Roundabout Theatre Company production, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ewan McGregor, and Cynthia Nixon, and directed by Sam Gold.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, however, as many more exciting shows are sure to be announced for the Broadway fall season in the coming months.