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Broadway recoupments and future openings

The Broadway production of The Mountaintop closed yesterday, after a run of 24 previews and 117 regular performances, and just under the wire, it was announced last Wednesday that the show had managed the rare Broadway feat of actually recouping its entire initial investment.

That’s an acomplishment, of course, but first of all it’s interesting that it only happened so late in the day — the announcement came five days before the show actually ended — but even more compelling is the sum of that initial investment: $3.1m. 

That’s quite a lot of moolah for a play that only featured two actors. And quite a long way from the play’s origins at the tiny Theatre 503 in Battersea, where presumably the budget was more like £3.10 (or maybe £30,000 if I’m being generous).

But it also means that although it has recouped its costs — and covered paying decent salaries to a staff, crew and other associated personnel from press officers to general managers during its run — its investors have in fact only, so far, simply had their money back. They’ve not actually made any; so it was effectively an interest-free loan they extended to the production.

Investing on Broadway, in particular plays, is therefore a largely philanthropic act, a plaything for rich people to rub shoulders with creative people and get their names on the poster alongside them, rather than something to be done with the hope of a genuine return from. 

And yet there still seems to be no shortage of investors lining up to give their money and get that kudos and reflected glamour.

In the last week alone, three more plays have announced their intentions to open in the already very crowded month of April: Magic/Bird, a new play about the rivalry and friendship between basketball heroes Magic Johnson and Larry Bird; Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer and Olivier Award winning play previously seen at the Royal Court, will make its Broadway bow after only being seen off-Broadway before; and Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel to the Peter Pan story previously seen off-Broadway.

I wrote last Friday of clashing openings in London and regionally that sees, for example, 7 shows opening on Feb. 7 alone; but Broadway is crowding so many shows into April that it’s getting out of hand. So far, the openings currently scheduled between now and April 26, which is the cut-off date that was announced last week for Broadway shows to open and be eligible for consideration for this year’s awards (to be presented on June 10) are as follows, with more than double the number in April (13 as of now) than in the rest of January, February and March combined (6 in total):

  • January 26: WitSex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon returns to her stage roots to star in Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning play, at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre.
  • February 16: Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It — the Star Trek star William Shatner returns to Broadway for the first time since he appeared there in 1962 with a one-man show, filling in at the Music Box before One Man Two Guvnors arrives (see below).
  • March 15: Death of a Salesman — Philip Seymour Hoffman is Willy Loman and British screen star Andrew Garfield is his son Biff in a new production of the Arthur Miller classic, directed by Mike Nichols, opening at the Barrymore.
  • March 18: Once — Broadway transfer for off-Broadway stage version of the film, with book by Enda Walsh and direction by National Theatre of Scotland’s John Tiffany, opening at the Jacobs Theatre.
  • March 22: Jesus Christ Superstar — Broadway transfer for the Stratford, Ontario production of the Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, directed by Des McAnuff, at the Neil Simon Theatre.
  • March 29: Newsies — stage version of the Disney live action musical favourite, featuring songs by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, opens at the Nederlander.
  • April 1: The Best Man - A cast that includes James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury and Candice Bergen in Gore Vidal’s political play, at the Schoenfeld Theatre.
  • April 2:End of the Rainbow - Tracie Bennett reprises her West End performance as Judy Garland in Peter Quilter’s play, at the Belasco.
  • April 5: Evita — Michael Grandage’s 2006 London revival of Lloyd Webber/Rice’s greatest work, with Elena Roger reprising her performance in the title role, newly joined by Ricky Martin as Che, at the Marquis.
  • April 11: Magic/Bird - at the Longacre, see above.
  • April 12: Clybourne Park - at the Walter Kerr, see above.
  • April 15: Peter and the Starcatcher - at the Brooks Atkinson, see above.
  • April 18: One Man Two Guvnors — James Corden reprises his National Theatre performance in Richard Bean’s adaptation of Goldoni, at the Music Box.
  • April 22: Rebecca — Sierra Boggess (from the original London cast of Love Never Dies) in Michael Kunze’s adaptation of du Maurier, featuring music by Sylvester Levay, and direction by Michael Blakemore, at the Broadhurst.
  • April 23: Ghost the Musical — Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy reprise their West End performances in Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard and Bruce Joel Rubin’s musical adaptation of the 1990 film, at the Lunt-Fontanne.
  • April 24: Nice Work if You Can Get It — Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara in new musical devised from the back catalogue of the Gershwins, at the Imperial.
  • April 25: The Columnist — new play by David Auburn, who previously wrote Proof, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J Friedman Theatre.
  • April 26: Don’t Dress for Dinner — John Tillinger directs Marc Camoletti’s sequel to Boeing-Boeing for Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre.

Still to announce an opening night is Leap of Faith, a new musical based on the film of the same name, though it will begin previews on April 3 at the St James Theatre with a cast led by Raul Esparza.

That’s a lot of new shows chasing the same publicity and reviewing channels — and the same audience pool. And, of course, also the same drive for awards recognition that consolidates all these openings into such a mad rush, as they seek to get in under the wire to be considered eligible for this year’s Tony Awards.

4 Comments

Sadly once again the partnership of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber which will be on display twice over on Broadway in the new season is under stress and for the silliest of reasons.

Sir Tim Rice was wrong to criticise Andrews's comments over the Olympics; anyone who thinks that sport enthusiasts -who will consitute by far the extra tourists during this event-have any interest in taking in a show at the same time is deluding themselves.

However he is entirely right in condeming ALW"s latest "Search For" show. Looking for a"Mary" ("Maria") or a "Joseph" is one thing but a "Jesus" is quite another (Andrew should be careful Jesus does not come looking for him!) It is very close to blasphemy and-if the recent Dutch experience is any guide- moving this series from public service to commercial television is likely to be fiasco.

More to the point however is that this is a production which does not need to be sold and particulaly not to the kind of audience that views programmes like this on ITV. I fully realise that besides being a composer this man also wears the hats of producer/chairman of the board of Really Useful Group and theatre owner (all of which seem as uncompatible as that of Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor as Thomas Becket would testify) however there are limits to how far one should go. He may like to think of himself as sophisticated and cultured but in recent times- and especially this instance- he is beginning to remind one of Cecil B.De Mille!

It is anyway time to cease with these sham "searches" for things that were never lost in the first place. For all the cant about looking for new talent and then finding it in the ensemble! Besides, there is a difference between trying to discover someone with the "X Factor" and the lead in a new musical; it is the difference between seeking the best newspaper deliverer and a fully qualified reporter.

Time to move on Andrew and start doing what you really do best-compose. How about something for our Olympics? You did it for the Spanish -what about your own people?

How can a play with only two actors cost $3m to stage? Or did it open, like Driving Miss Daisy in London with a list of producers and allied staff which was greater than the number of cast members? Or did the production allow production expenses to blow out with payment of some inflated salaries? No play can ever recoup a $3m investment: a musical can. This is not theatre, this is performance kamikaze. $3m might very well buy some expensive staging and musicians to play in it, but for gawds sake, was the B'way production given a set decked in Italian marble and coated with gold leaf? Did the actors wear suits fashioned from gold thread into yarn? (This was a play about Martin Luther King for heaven's sake, not king Midas).

@Michael Rolfe: Thanks for posting your comment. You state: "No play can ever recoup a $3m investment: a musical can." But in fact my piece specifically says that THIS play *did* recoup its $3m investment!

The announcement about the recoupment was made a week before the planned closure, though it doesn't mean that was the *exact* point of recoupment, no? It is *possible* that it was actually a little bit earlier. It may have been announced then as a final piece of buzz to bolster the play's sales in the final week; after all, it generated some more news articles! I say this just because all those recent kinds of announcements for Broadway plays have been a week or so before they close, often included in a "closing soon" kind of Playbill website news piece.

I agree, though, that that is a surprisingly large budget for such a play, but hiring two film stars would require offering them generous salaries during the rehearsals, adding to the initial running costs.

Also, I think it depends vastly on various contracts and licenses, but likely the investors (and producers) would see a percentage of royalties or licensing fees for consequent regional production, and any major Broadway production will generate a stack of small and medium copy cat productions across America. That will likely trickle back to the angels who invested in the original...

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