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The circle of life (and sudden death) on Broadway

Earlier this week I posted a blog on some of the shows I’m most looking forward to seeing this year in London; today it is Broadway’s turn. Broadway really is a circle of life (and quote often, sudden death), and not just in the song from one of its longest-established hits The Lion King.

The Broadway year there runs in cycles, and as the New York Times pointed out last week, they are currently in “one of the unhappiest seasons on Broadway, when struggling plays and musicals prepare to close once the tourists leave town.”

While Hugh Jackman ended his run last Sunday on a considerable high — banking some $14m in ticket sales in just 10 weeks — many others are ending with considerable losses, as witness the fate of Bonnie and Clyde which closed last Friday after less than a month’s run, wiping out all of its $6m capitalization, while The Addams Family has run longer but closed last weekend, too, without recouping all of its $16.5m costs either.

The revival of Private Lives, with Kim Cattrall reprising her London turn as Amanda in Richard Eyre’s production, also curtailed its always limited run five weeks early last weekend; while Follies will close after completing its scheduled run on January 22 (but then going on to LA), as will An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin on January 13. Also departing, as previously announced, are Billy Elliot on January 8 and The Mountaintop on January 22.

As the New York Times noted, “February can be even colder at the box office, so it’s possible that a few other Broadway plays and musicals won’t last past January. We shall see.” In fact, we’ve just seen another casualty: it was announced earlier this week that Lysistrata Jones will also shutter this weekend, after 34 previews and 30 performances. And the vultures may yet be circling over On a Clear Day You Can See Forever; sadly, what you can’t see, however clear the day, are audiences lining up at the box office.

But there is no shortage of shows to replace them all. Broadway, where real estate is in finite supply as it is in the West End, always abhors a vacuum, and there are always shows waiting in the wings, in every sense, to fill the vacancies.

Between now and April, the cut-off for eligibility for this year’s Tony Awards which always produces a mad scramble of openings, there’s a host of West End-to-Broadway transfers: the current West End hit Ghost opens April 23 at the Lunt-Fontanne (vacated by The Addams Family); Tracie Bennett also reprises her extraordinary performance as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, opening April 2 at the Belasco; James Corden leads the cast of the transfer of the National’s hit production of One Man Two Guvnors to open April 18; and Elena Roger returns to the title role of Evita that she first played in London in 2006, newly joined by Ricky Martin as Che, opening April 5 at the Marquis.

I can’t wait to see Evita again — I became mildly OCD on this production during the final weeks of its London run, returning to it every Friday night for three weeks before it shut; Elena Roger gives what I think is one of the single most thrilling performances I have ever seen in a musical, and I hope that both her sizzling allure and dazzling style remain intact.

Other Broadway musical highlights ahead this spring: a terrific new production of Jesus Christ Superstar that I first saw at Stratford, Ontario last summer, opens March 22 at the Neil Simon; two new film-to-stage musicals see the cult features Once and Disney’s Newsies opening respectively March 18 at the Bernard B Jacobs and March 29, at the Nederlander that I’ve seen already, too, when they played at New York Theatre Workshop and Paper Mill Playhouse last autumn; a new musical based on du Maurier’s famous story Rebecca, opening April 22 at the Broadhurst that was originally planning to premiere at London’s Shaftesbury but then got re-routed direct to Broadway (funny, that); and Nice Work if You Can Get It, a new musical created out of the back catalogue of the Gerswhins, opening April 24 at the Imperial.

Other plays I’m looking forward to are Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, opening April 1 at the Schoenfeld, with a cast that includes Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones and Candice Bergman; and Death of Salesman will be revived with a cast led by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman, and young British screen actor Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, the upcoming The Amazing Spider-man) who originally began his career on the London stage, opening March 15 at the Barrymore.

And that’s before reckoning on Off-Broadway, where I can’t wait for this month’s return of a revamped version of the notorious RSC Broadway flop Carrie, opening at the Lucille Lortel in Greenwich Village with a cast led by the wonderful Marin Mazzie in the role of the mother originated at Stratford-upon-Avon by Barbara Cook and on Broadway, all-too-briefly, by Betty Buckley.

And beyond New York, I am very much looking forward to seeing Brother Russia, a new musical at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, across the river from Washington DC, that begins March 6. It has a score that reunites composer Dana P Rowe and lyricist and book writer John Dempsey who wrote Zombie Prom (seen off-Broadway) and The Fix and The Witches of Eastwick (both premiered in London, before subsequently being staged at the Signature). I should declare an interest: composer Dana Rowe has become a good friend in the years since I first met him before The Fix even opened in London, so I am going more as a friend than a critic!

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