The usual trajectory for a hit show is to milk it for all it is worth - once it is established, to keep it alive for as long as possible. They used to advertise Cats with the slogan “Now and Forever”; and though a university doctor friend of mine, working in a genitourinary clinic when I ran into him by chance (he was working, I was not!), once quipped, “Nothing is for life - except herpes and genital warts”, it turned out not to be true about Cats, at least.
It may, however, prove to be the case with The Mousetrap, which I noticed as I walked past it the other day is now in its 58th year - when I first saw it back in 1979, it was merely in its 27th year! In the new Judy Garland play End of the Rainbow, set in 1969, she quips that she has to sing something, or “you can all go to The Mousetrap — and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody!”
But some shows do quit when they’re ahead. Even though the stage version of Yes Prime Minister, currently running at the Gielgud, astonishingly recouped its entire investment in less than five weeks, its producers are shutting shop on schedule on January 15. Presumably the actors’ contracts are up for renewal then, and rather than enter into the costly and time-consuming business of either renegotiating them (at which point they will inevitably demand higher fees!) or re-casting, they are simply closing it in the West End and then taking it on a national tour.
The same thing happened with Equus after Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths ended their West End run at the same theatre. The producers had made their money, and got out. The same producers - David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers - have turned Calendar Girls into a profitable touring franchise instead of becoming a West End perennial, though with that one they did at least rotate through a few cast changes in town first with actresses of a certain age and vintage queuing up to appear in it.
More often, of course, producers quit when they’re behind; and nowhere is this harsh economic reality played out more quickly than on Broadway, where the weekly running costs are so high that the moment it looks like you won’t be able to meet them, you post the closing notice. Elling — produced by Britain’s Howard Panter with an assist from Bill Kenwright and other American partners - opened on Broadway last Sunday; it will close this Sunday, just a week later. As the New York Times reported yesterday, “The production earned only $145,070 for its eight performances last week, with the producers offering many tickets at a sharp discount. The average paid admission was $22.03, about half as much as the next low performer, the new play A Free Man of Color, earned that week.”
Though a formal notice of its closure was issued by the show’s press representative, it turns out that its lead actor was one of the first to put out the word about its imminent demise: Denis O’Hare posted on his Facebook page to say, “If you want to see Elling, ya better hurry. We are being closed down this Sunday … yup. Our producers will go no further. Happy Thanksgiving!”