The Playgoer: Raw Numbers: "Company" down, "Grey Gardens" next

Custom Search

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Raw Numbers: "Company" down, "Grey Gardens" next

Back in November I predicted neither Company, nor Grey Gardens, nor--gulp--even Spring Awakening would last till Valentines Day! Ok, I was really, really off on that.

But at least two of them have finally thrown in the towel five months later. "Company" folded over the past weekend, and "GG" just announced it will retire at the end of the month. (At least from the New York stage. Both a London and national tour--with Christine Ebersole--are supposedly still in the offing.)

As for "Spring Awakening," in case you were wondering about that "Tony bounce," by last count it's playing at 98% capacity.

My argument was never that these shows were not good enough to run long and fill houses. Quite the contrary. Too good. Too serious and adult-oriented (yes, even Spring Awakening) too attract that endless stream of tourists and their huge families that keep the B'way Beast fed. "Spring" finally delivered--after many, many months of uncertainty, to be sure. That team (a huge team!) of dedicated producers stuck with it and may some day, some day see a few pennies profit. (Definitely not yet.)

My impression is that "Company" and "GG" held on for dear life at a big, big loss to its investors. Probably mainly for Tonys. Sure, Tonys for their stars, Esparza and Ebersole. But producing ain't charity. These producers were no doubt hoping for Tonys themselves. At least the "Company" people at least got one (for Best Musical Revival). It's amazing how much cash and credit these people will pour into the Black Hole of the Great White Way in pursuit of that trophy. Cf. "Journey's End," which not coincidentally didn't stay open any longer than it needed to, folding just three hours before the CBS broadcast.

To be sure, both shows have picked up at the end, climbing to over 80%, even. And 80% of a 1000-plus seat house is quite something on a nightly basis....Which leads me to question the assumption that so many--myself included--so often buy into: Namely, that the first question one asks when a Broadway show closes--no matter how long the run!--is inevitably "What went wrong?"

Even "The Producers"--after five years of a mostly strong run--was subject to various grim autopsies. And, yes, there the answer was obvious (the Lane/Broderick factor). But what more can one hope for in a show to play to a thousand people a show, eight shows a week, for over five years???

The "long run" is the gold standard of live show business. Yet it's a relatively modern invention. Not until the mid-19th century--when urban populations so ballooned that actor-managers didn't exhaust potential ticket sales so quickly, and when theatres were prettified and neighborhoods gentrified to attract the respectable middle class and tourists--did it become feasible (and even desirable) for a company to "sit down" with one property and play it exclusively for more than, say, a couple of weeks in a row. Until then, rep ruled the day.

But since then, producers soon became addicted to the lure of the show that keeps on giving. From Tobacco Road, to Oklahoma, to Chorus Line to Phantom (now in its third decade), the bar--the gold bar, that is--gets set higher and higher. Without anyone asking: is this any sane kind of measure of success?

Consider such basic questions as: can the quality of even the finest production withstand more than 300 consecutive performances? Is this what the gods of theatre really wanted?

In such perspective, then. the 247 perf's of Company and over 300 of Grey Gardens are not only "respectable" but downright phenomenal, especially given today's economic biases against anything that doesn't put shallow entertainment first. If they ran any longer, no doubt we would see dispiriting cast changes (Tony Danza as Bobby! Kathy Lee Gifford as Little Edie!) and an audience increasingly stuffed with two-fer toting flip-flop wearers in search of air-conditioning.

So, rest in peace Grey Gardens and Company. Consider it Broadway's equivalent of mercy killing.

No comments: