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The looming Broadway blood bath….

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).

6 Comments

It should also be noted that while last season's Tony winning In The Heights is doing respectable business , its nowhere near capacity and its grosses are similar to Spring Awakening's grosses - which means that ITH clearly has a limited life on Broadway. I think a lot of these shows that have announced that they are coming in won't end up showing up at all for the same reasons that this season's Godspell and For Colored Girls didn't arrive - investors will simply pull out and the show's will have no choice but to cancel. Additionally, None of these producers are lowering their ticket prices and the economic forecast isn't getting any better. What are they thinking? Finally even the announcement of the closing of Young Frankenstein was arrogant ; pretending to be fiscally responsible when in fact greed defeated them.

Alas, 13 is also closing on January 4th

Percentages at this time of year mean nothing. It's about the average take over the next few weeks getting shows through losing weeks in traditionally grim January and February. As you point out every industry and economy is diving. By the end of January there will be 30% fewer musicals on Broadway than are playing right now. And yet by the end of the 2008-2009 season there will have been as many, if not more, new show openings as there were the prior year. Every January is tough and yes, this year will be worse than ever, but not an unexpected "blood bath." In response to James, there has never been more discounting on Broadway. Scaling a house is a thing of the past -- it's about variable, segmented, tragetted ticket pricing. Also, Young Frankenstein is closing because it was really disappointing, not because of arrogance. Arrogance usually sells on Broadway!

I've nothing to say on the topic; I just thought I'd try to stop the italics, which Mark forgot to tag off at the end of his header entry and which have consequently spread over the rest of the page!

Hmmm - the screen says "you may use HTML tags for style", but in all fairness it doesn't say "we will observe and execute them"...

Frank's points are well taken but I wonder if at the end of the 2008 -2009 season how many of those new show openings will still be running. Interim bookings on Broadway such as the brief return of Slava's Snowshow and White Christmas add to the number of productions but they are short novelty driven holiday runs and not , you should excuse the expression, genuine Broadway shows. As for arrogance killing Young Frankenstein , I'll stick by that. It was the creators arrogance that kept them from working on the show to make it better. If they hadn't thought they were omnipotent they would've worked harder created a genuine musical comedy instead of the bloated overlong over indulged mess that it is.

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