Just how bad are things going to get? While we’re not - yet - following Iceland into the wholesale collapse of global banking systems, most industries are suffering; and though things are not quite as catastrophic for Broadway as they are for the car industries in Detroit, at least not yet, disaster seems to be not far away.
Box office figures for the week that ended November 23 show five shows dipping precariously below 50% attendances, and another five below 60%. And one of the latter, bizarrely, is the now-previewing Shrek, with attendances of just 53.9%, proving that a very popular title isn’t enough in the current marketplace: people need to know that the show is actually delivering before they will book for it, and the word is not out yet either way.
Yet it’s the injection of new shows like Shrek around the autumn season that is meant to prop up the season as it moves into winter.
There’s always a falling off of old shows in January, when - after staying afloat to enjoy the usually lucrative Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons - a bunch will announce their closures rather than facing the typically bleak January to March months. And this year, there’s long been advance word of a serious clear-out of long-runners, with Hairspray, Spamalot and Spring Awakening all set to depart on January 4, 11 and 18 respectively. (Spamalot had originally announced a January 18 closure, but have now [brought it forward] a week. This is another increasing trend: shows are regularly announcing a planned closure date but then stealing a march on themselves, as A Tale of Two Cities recently did when it summarily brought forward its closing date from November 16 to November 9).
Now it has been announced that Young Frankenstein will join them, too, shutting on January 4; in a statement, producer Robert F. X Sillerman has proudly boasted of his “spectacular and extravagant musical”, but said that, “In these uncertain economic times, my partners and I have decided to end our run on Broadway and focus on the first national tour, which will launch in September 2009”.
And the current Broadway revival of Gypsy, too, starring Patti LuPone as Madame Rose, has posted a closing notice for March 1, 2009, “at the conclusion of LuPone’s original contract”, though with attendances last week not even scraping 50%, it could well be that it finds its number up before then unless those numbers go up.
These are, of course, only the closures that have already been officially announced; by January, there could be a wholesale bloodbath of many of the other weaker shows. Can Equus — officially booking to February 8 - survive that long, with attendances currently at 49.9%? Or what about the prospects for 13, now down to 45.9%?
But while such closures, when they happen, are usually part of the ebb and flow of Broadway, in which the old has to inevitably make way at some point for the new, the winter and spring season doesn’t offer too much encouragement for product to replace them: so far on the musicals front, there are only plans for revivals of Hair, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, all arriving in March at the Hirschfeld, Nederlander and Palace Theatres respectively, while the sole new musical of any scale is 9 to 5, due to arrive at the Marquis in April after its summer try-out in LA. Otherwise, there are only two more new small-scale musicals so far on the cards - the two-man The Story of My Life (coming to the Booth in February) and the three-women Vanities(opening at the Lyceum in February).