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: Wit — Sex 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.