The Playgoer: That Tony Lure

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

That Tony Lure

Something interesting happening on the Rialto right now: a number of recent Off Broadway successes will be descending upon available theatres this spring just in time for Tony Time. (That time being recently confirmed to as June 10.) Today we have definite announcements from Clybourne Park and Peter and the Starcatcher. They will join there other previously announced Off Broadway transfers, Venus in Fur and Once.

Now you'd think all these available playhouses might be a bad omen for these plucky upstarts, since they are vacant due to fizzling out of so many other unasked-for Broadway runs of small, star-less shows this season: Lysistrata Jones, Private Lives (proving Kim Cattrall is not a "star"), and Chinglish (playing to only 40% capacity last week). Not to mention the short-lived, open-and-shut case (if you will) of Michael Mayer's high-concept On a Clear Day You Can See Forever revival.

This means a lot--a lot--of capital is being raised purely to garner Tony Awards (or at least nominations) for shows that will almost surely lose money during their runs. Once has already underwhelmed critics in its downtown run at New York Theatre Workshop, making its pre-announced Broadway transfer plans seem like downright hubris. NYTW was also behind Peter and the Starcatcher--which by the way, unlike Peter Pan (recently revived over the holidays with, yes, Cathy Rigby!) is not a musical. So good luck with that.

Venus in Fur played CSC downtown last season, but the ever-gambling Manhattan Theatre Club (do not trust them with your stock portfolio) has invested mightily in its Tony-potential. Not only did they open its Broadway-venue season with this, but so hungry for more dividends off the show they are opening an extended run next month at the Lyceum. So starlet Nina Arianda must have the most powerful agent in New York, since a lot of money is going into keeping her on Broadway long enough to get that Tony that she was supposed to get for last season's short-lived, ill-advised vehicle Born Yesterday.

Clybourne Park, last year's Pulitzer-winner will certainly get some buzz. I, for one, am looking forward to finally getting in to see it after its sold-out Playwrights Horizons back in 2010. But if the producers think its provocative, discomforting exploration of racial issues is going to spur as much box office as op-eds, they just haven't been on Broadway in a while. Racial themes that are non-confrontational can still do ok; Stick Fly still unbelievably running at just 60% capacity, and Porgy and Bess just opened to strong sales and unenthused but strong-enough reviews. And while the MLK-drama The Mountaintop received bemused, head-scratching critical response, having Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in it (and no one else) was enough to make back its investment this week with big sales and low overhead. Clybourne Park doesn't have any of that going for it.

In comparison, Lisa D'Amour's Detroit seems like it made the right call last month in foregoing initial Broadway plans and settling for a safer run at Playwrights Horizons instead. You see, it only was a Pulitzer runner-up. And, as Clybourne Park will probably show, not even the first prize counts as marquee value these days.

1 comment:

John Branch said...

It all sounds pretty iffy to me. Only reason I'm kind of glad about the extended life given to Venus in Fur is that I kept failing to see it in smaller venues. Assuming I finally do in its last, biggest house, I'll probably be sorry I waited. For that matter, I wish I'd been watching NYU productions, which I believe is where Nina Arianda first appeared.