Fallout from the Annual Tony Awards usually includes announcements of shows closing because their lagging box-office didn’t get enough of a kick from the telecast. In an unusual development for Broadway, no less than six of this season’s musical offerings grossed more than a million dollars in last week’s tally, led by “Kinky Boots” ($1.5 milion), the winner of the Best Musical Tony. Also in the club were “Motown, the Musical” and “Matilda” as well as the revivals of “Pippin,” “Cinderella,” and “Annie.” That’s an impressive show of strength, attributable to the fact that all are family-friendly and offer either spectacle or a familiar brand name.
At this point each of the shows look likely to recoup their respective investments. If so, that would mean that 50 percent of the commercial musicals presented this season will have gone into the black, an eye-raising statistic given that the average rate of success is 25 percent or less. Even more surprising is the success of the non-musicals, Broadway’s poor cousins. “Lucky Guy,” “I’ll Eat You Last,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and “The Heiress” have already announced recoupement. And Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which won the Best Play Tony Award, will probably announce next month that it has fully paid back its investment. Given that 10 plays flopped, the 33 percent rate of commercial success is not as good as that for musicals but still well above average. (A caveat: the jury is still out on “Macbeth,” starring Alan Cumming and “The Trip to Bountiful,” with Tony-Award winner, Cicely Tyson.)
So what does that say about the present state of Broadway? Marquee names are good insurance. It’s arguable that without Tom Hanks (“Lucky Guy”), Bette Midler (“I’ll Eat You Last”), Al Pacino (“Glengarry Glen Ross”), and Jessica Chastain, (“The Heiress”), the ledgers for their respective shows would have been filled with red ink. However, even with stars you can still face insolvency. For all their clout, Scarlett Johannson (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”) and Alec Baldwin (“Orphans”) couldn’t drag their shows over the finish line.
Another lesson is that you can make end runs around New York’s critical establishment if your brand or star names are strong enough. “Motown, the Musical” received some of the worst reviews of the season and has been grossing well over a million dollars since it opened. On the other hand, unanimous raves couldn’t save the Steppenwolf production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play as well as a trophy for its star, Tracy Letts. While this season’s scorecard may entice more investors to try their luck on Broadway, the depressing news is that, with the exception of “Matilda” and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” this was one of the least imaginative seasons in recent history.
Photo by Joan Marcus