The Playgoer: "Vertical" goes Hoizontal

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Vertical" goes Hoizontal

Wow, here's something interesting, hot off the NYT online presses:

“The Vertical Hour,” David Hare’s play about the political divide between Americans and the British, will close on March 11, three weeks earlier than scheduled. The play, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy, opened at the Music Box Theater on Nov. 30 to reviews that ranged from glowing to glum. Weekly grosses dwindled in January, a hard time for most Broadway shows.
Indeed, according to the stats, the show is now hovering just above the 50% range lately, dipping almost 4% (from 58% to 54%) in the last week. That's not significantly better than "Little Dog Laughed"! Especially when you compare it to the still-going-strong Phantom, which actually went up last week from 59% to 69%.

Playbill has the complete press release statement:
"The Vertical Hour is expected to recoup its entire capitalization with the week ending March 11. In order to maintain that advantageous financial position for the play's investors, the producers will end the limited engagement three weeks earlier than originally announced."
Wow. No "Ms. Moore has a film commitment." Just--"We made our profit. Let's get out while we're ahead." Apparently after March 11, they're not very confident that they could stop the hemorrhaging. Perhaps one might even be so bold as to say that--to borrow the metaphor from the play's own title!--the time left to save this wounded patient is ticking, ticking and running out.

What do we learn from this?

A) That, apparently, Julianne Moore is not enough to sell tickets on Broadway to a "straight" play after all. (Non-straight plays in the other sense have their own problems, of course. See yesterday)

B) That Juia Roberts is just a bigger star?

C) That "Three Days of Rain" weathered its own bad reviews thanks to just lower overhead? (Three actors, the other two much lower paid, presumably.) Also, I believe, less of an advertising budget, since ads were just not necessary after they instantly sold out.

D) British plays aren't necessarily guaranteed to sell tix either.

E) That Julianne Moore was just that bad?

F) That Hare's script is just that lame?

G) That there really isn't much of a Bill Nighy fan club on these shores yet.


H) Whoever you are, Broadway doesn't want your political stuff. "Three Days of Rain" may not have been British, but it had the advantage of passing as "romantic" and not challenging its audience a whit. "Vertical Hour"--for all we heard about how wonderful it was to be addressing the Iraq war from a Broadway stage and how the timing was right now after the Democratic election victory--was, in the end, not helped by politics, whatever else its possible flaws.

Remember the Broadway audience is now less than half New Yorkers. (Even less than a third at many shows.) It seems the New York audience came out for a while. Now they've seen it. Or I should say--the New York audience that was willing to shell out north of $75 has seen it. I know I would like very much to have seen it. But with a star cast and good early sales, the producers apparently felt no incentive to offer any substantive discount or outreach for this "socially minded" play.

But think of the poor marketing directors! Only a short while ago they were advertising "Final 11 Weeks." My God, 11 was short enough!

PS: Back in November I cited what turns out to have been a pretty prescient quote from Sir David: "The straight play is a very endangered thing on Broadway....[T]here are so many clever people in New York. They mostly don't go to the theatre - but they'll go once a year."

At the time I ventured that the "one" this season would either be his or Stoppard's. Interesting that the more conservative writer won.


Anonymous said...

THREE DAYS OF RAIN also had film money - it's being made into a film starring (surprise) Julia Roberts....

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't blame this one on politics. The play wasn't ready, and the lead actress isn't a theatre actress.

parabasis said...


I think all of the things you mention have worked in tandem, including the political thing. I'm not sure this is exactly the disasterfuck you're talking about. The play is supposed to be terrible. DOA. With Julianne Moore being blown off the stage by Bill Nighy.

There was nothing political about Faith Healer, and that bombed too, didnt' it?