“Wolf Hall” Steady at the Box Office after Eight Tony Nominations

A Double Bill of English Historical Drama

wolf hallOn April 9, 2015, Wolf Hall: Parts One and Two opened at the Winter Garden Theater. This double bill of plays went by the names Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies during its London run, as those are the names of the novels on which the plays are based. Those productions opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company and then transferred to the West End’s Aldwych Theatre, where the run wrapped up on October 4, 2014. The shows then transferred to Broadway with previews beginning March 20, 2015. The novels were also adapted into a BBC mini-series starring Mark Rylance (Jerusalem, Boeing Boeing) as Thomas Cromwell. After airing in the United Kingdom on March 8, 2013, that five part mini-series aired in the United States on PBS starting April 5, 2015, coinciding with the Broadway run of the show. The stage adaptations were written by Mike Poulton based on Hilary Mantel’s novels, with music by Stephen Warbeck. The shows are directed by Jeremy Herrin, an accomplished British director who is making his Broadway debut with these shows in repertory. On Broadway, the role of Thomas Cromwell is played by Ben Miles, who was previously seen on Broadway in the triple bill productions of The Norman Conquests, which were also transfers from London.

Generally Rave Reviews from U.S. Criticswolf hall

When the reviews came out for Wolf Hall, it was clear that most critics loved the show, though a few were on the fence. Ben Brantley of The New York Times was in the supporting camp, deeming the subject matter of British history to be extraordinarily good gossip. Though admitting it is a high brow work, he proclaims these stage plays, unlike the novels and mini-series, to be a whole lot of fun. David Cote in Time Out New York likewise enjoyed the productions, calling Ben Miles’ performance as Thomas Cromwell “cunning,” and delighting in the almost six hours of arguing between pope and crown. David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter remarked on the low odds that this 1,000 page pair of novels would amount to popular success, but deemed the productions and acting ensemble to be first rate. Furthermore, Robert Kahn of NBC New York found the ensemble to be finely tuned, praising the productions while admitting that they demand intense focus from the audience to keep up. Linda Winer from Newsday was less in complete favor of the shows, calling Jeremy Herrin’s direction handsome but unsurprising, seemingly bored with the overabundance of material on this historical period.

Tony Nominations and Box Office Response

Wolf Hall: Parts One and Two received an incredible eight Tony Award nominations. The double bill received nominations for Best Play, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for Ben Miles, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for Nathaniel Parker, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for Lydia Leonard, Best Scenic Design of a Play, Best Costume Design of a Play, Best Lighting Design of Play, and Best Direction of a Play for Jeremy Herrin. Therefore, although critics and awards nominees alike loved the show, that response does not seem greatly to have affected the interest of audience members in buying tickets to the productions. In the last reported week of box office figures, the week ending May 10, 2015, the show brought in $630,653, which is only 51.56% of its gross potential. The highest week thus far in the run was its first full week of performances, when it reached 64.38% of its gross potential, and the lowest thus far was 42.81% of its gross potential in the week ending April 12, 2015, just after opening. Therefore, it seems that the British history diehards will buy tickets to this show independent of recognition by the Tony committee and critics, perhaps assuming the positive reviews that it inevitably received. More casual theatregoers, however, will not be persuaded to attend this show even with such praise, perhaps intimidated by the heaviness of the material or the length of the two productions.

“Wolf Hall: Parts One and Two” Begin Previews on Broadway

An Epic Adaptation in Repertory

wolf hallOn March 20, 2015, Wolf Hall Part One and Wolf Hall Part Two began previews in repertory at the Winter Garden Theatre. This two-part epic play comes to New York following a successful run first at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s home theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, followed by a slam dunk engagement in London’s West End. These two plays are based on two novels written by Hilary Mantel, entitled Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, respectively. In the United Kingdom, the plays went by the same name as the books, but in New York, the producers decided it would be more accessible to American audiences to make obvious that this was a double bill. Therefore, they renamed the shows Wolf Hall Part One and Wolf Hall Part Two, thereby avoiding any ambiguity about which order they come in. The novels, both of which were selected as winners of the Man Booker Prize, were adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton. In addition to these theatrical renditions, Wolf Hall was recently also made into a TV mini series on the BBC, then broadcast in the United States on PBS, starring Mark Rylance (Jerusalem) as Thomas Cromwell.

Prize-Winning Historical Fiction about King Henry VIIIwolf hall

Wolf Hall Part One spans the period from 1500 to 1535, and Wolf Hall Part Two starts where the previous play finishes. Hilary Mantel plans to publish a third novel in what will be a trilogy, which will be entitled The Mirror and the Light. However, there was so much praise for these two novels that both stage and screen adaptations were made before the third novel has even been written. The novels (and their adaptations) deal with the period of English history in which Thomas Cromwell rapidly rises to power during the reign of Henry VIII. The stories are historical fiction, as some dramatic liberties were taken with the biography. In Wolf Hall Part One, Cromwell becomes the right-hand man of the advisor to King Henry VIII, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. This characterization of Cromwell depicts him as a talented and practical man who really aims to serve the country amidst the difficult political climate. The first play ends with the death of Sir Thomas More, a councillor to King Henry VIII as well as a lawyer, statesman, and philosopher. In Wolf Hall Part Two, Thomas Cromwell and the King are the guests of the Seymour family. When the King falls in love with Jane Seymour, Cromwell is tasked with negotiating a separation from the King’s present wife, Anne Boleyn, who has failed to give birth to a male heir.

Cast and Creative Team

Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novels are directed by Jeremy Herrin, an accomplished British director who is making his Broadway directorial debut. The role of Thomas Cromwell is played by Ben Miles (The Norman Conquests trilogy), Lydia Leonard plays Anne Boleyn, and Nathaniel Parker (The Merchant of Venice) plays King Henry VIII. All three of these stars are reprising their roles from the London production. In addition, the cast of over 20 actors play approximately 70 diverse roles. Because of the marathon nature of these productions, they can both be seen in one day, amounting to 5 and a half hours of theatre with a dinner break, or they can be seen on different days.

“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.

“Rocky” Announces Early Closing in August

Despite High Hopes, The Broadway Run Will End After Just Six Months

rocky the musical on BroadwayRocky The Musical took New York by storm when it first showed up on Broadway this winter.  In anticipation of its first preview on February 13, 2014, it ousted Mamma Mia! from the Winter Garden Theatre, which had been its home for the last six years.  Rocky arrived fresh from a successful 2012 run in Hamburg, Germany, directed by hot young director Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher).  Based off the 1976 film of the same name, whose screenplay was written by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky is the rags to riches story of Rocky Balboa, a club fighter who eventually gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship.  The musical was nominated for four 2014 Tony Awards, winning one: that for Best Scenic Design.  However, just six short months after the musical began performances, it will close: on August 17, 2014.

A Financial Loss

With a reported capitalization of $16.5 million, Rocky is sure to close at a loss.  Weekly grosses have fluctuated, but generally been around $700,000, which is not excellent for a musical in such a large theatre.  For instance, in this past week ending July 13, 2014, the musical grossed $626,984, which is only 49.62% of its gross potential.  With such soft sales, the producers of Rocky are unlikely to have made back nearly any of their investment. This loss is a gigantic disappointment for the international producing organization Stage Entertainment, which was also behind the unsuccessful musicals Sister Act and Big Fish.  Still, there were high hopes for Rocky, which succeeded in its Hamburg run, so much that the Shubert Organization was persuaded to move Mamma Mia! and give up one of its prime houses.  However, reviews were mixed in the United States, and audiences could not quite wrap their head around the idea of a musical rendition of this classic film.

The “Golden Circle”, and the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design

The show is particularly ambitious in terms of its scenic design, for which it was given a Tony Award.  In a most notable designrocky golden circle feature, a boxing ring descends on the audience during a final climatic moment.  This “Golden Circle” requires that 64 orchestra seats be vacated, with the audience re-located to the stage.  Specifically, the center orchestra in rows AA through F are moved to bleachers, where the group’s view of the show isn’t as good as the remaining audience’s view of them.  However, this scenic feat is very impressive, and succeeds in making the audience feel as close to being in an actual boxing match as could be possible in a Broadway theatre.  Unfortunately, this spectacle was not enough to overcome the mediocre response to the narrative and score.

What Lies Ahead

Though this is a blow to the otherwise perfect record for director Alex Timbers, he is likely to remain on his feet.  His most recently announced upcoming project is a collaboration with husband and wife composing team Bobby Lopez (The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen).  It is called Up Here, and will premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2015.  Meanwhile, Rocky may decide to embark on a national tour, although its scenic elements are sure to pose a difficulty in creating a portable version of the show.  As the elaborate design was its biggest asset, a tour is a questionable choice, and the producers may decide that it is ultimately unfeasible.

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.

Mamma Mia! Will Move To The Broadhurst Theatre

Mamma MiaAfter well over a decade of playing at the Winter Garden Theatre, the long-running smash Broadway hit Mamma Mia! will transfer to the Broadhurst Theatre (currently home to the limited-run production Lucky Guy starring Tom Hanks). The transfer is expected to take place this fall.

“I’m thrilled that we have this opportunity to move Mamma Mia! to the Broadhurst Theatre in the heart of Times Square,” stated producer Judy Craymer. “As we celebrate 12 years and 5000 performances in New York, I’m thrilled that The Shubert Organization has created this timely opportunity, which will allow us to present Mamma Mia! to delight audiences on Broadway for many years to come.”

The Broadhurst Theatre has fewer seats than the Winter Garden, which may make more financial sense for Mamma Mia!  Though the musical remains popular, it has discounted its tickets for most of the show’s run, so it may benefit from playing in a smaller theater where there are fewer seats to sell. The Broadhurst also has better exposure in the high-traffic West 44th Street area of the theater district, as opposed to the Winter Garden which has less visibility to tourists given its location on the north end of Times Square.