The Playgoer: Valentine's Day Reckoning

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day Reckoning

Back on November 10 I made a very bold prediction: that Spring Awakening, Grey Gardens, and Company would all have closed shop on Broadway by Valentine's Day.

0 for 3, you say?

Fair enough. Obviously I was overstating the challenges they all face. But I still stand behind the argument notwithstanding the hyperbole and gloom-and-doom:

All three of these shows will get great reviews (already the case for Gardens) and generate great excitement among the theatre community and even the cherished younger audiences. But this audience will soon exhaust itself (if they can even afford the tickets, that is) within a few months. That is not long enough to recoup the investment of a musical on Broadway today. A true commercial success (i.e. profitable returns) depends on well over a year of continued business, which means pleasing not the critics, not the insiders but the average US consumer who sees Broadway as part of a Vegas-like "entertainment package." You have to fill your theatre with at least 800-900 of those folks every night, and they have to enjoy it so much they tell 800-900 more folks that it's worth $75.

Well let's look at the current stats, shall we? "Spring Awakening" indeed continues to gain strength, signalling genuine word of mouth. Their capacity last week rose to 80% and they just announced extended ticket sales through April 22. (Not quite Tony time, but close.) "Grey Gardens" is at 75%, but offering more visible discounts I see. "Company," though, still can't break 60%.

So it is perhaps good news for the future of quality on Broadway that these shows have survived. But has anyone talked of profit yet? My guess is these produces have made a commitment to keep sinking cash into the shows, praying for Tony-gold--which is still 4 months down the road.

The truth is, "Spring Awakening" obviously has the cheapest overhead, so stars, and came to Broadway fully formed from a risk free nonprofit development process. They can most afford to stick it out. The others are more expensive shows. (Despite John Doyle doubling his Company actors as musicians, I'm sure they still have to pay a musicians union minimum fee, I think. Then again, his "Sweeney" did recoup relatively quickly.) Plus, the others are less flashy shows, and, I bet, are really selling tickets based on their lead performeres, Christine Ebersole in "Gardens" and Raul Esparza in "Company."

What does this all add up to? Nothing, really. I was dead wrong and so I'll just fess up.

And no more predictions.


Anonymous said...

I got lost in part of your argument - all three shows came out of nonprofit - GREY GARDENS from Playwrights Horizons and COMPANY from Cincinnati Playhouse - so SPRING AWAKENING gets no financial headwind from that aspect - and are Esparza and Ebersole really bona fide ticket selling stars? Not certain about that.

And, no way any of these folks have recouped - took SWEENEY more than a year, I believe

Playgoer said...

Sorry, that was indeed sloppy of me. All 3 started in nonprofites, of course. I stand corrected

No, Esparza & Ebersole are hardly household names. Thus making both shows' futures on B'way even more precarious

NYCD Online said...

Company is only playing to 60% capacity? I was told that it's sold out for months and months -- by the people who were going to buy tix for me for Christmas! I'm madder than a fruit fly in a beehive, I tells ya....

Moxie said...

NYCD, there's been a lot of discussion on All That Chat and the like about that strange phenomenon over at Company. They've been telling people it's sold out when it's only been playing to 60%. I haven't heard any definitive explanation of why this is, aside from the conspiracy theories that say that the theater wants Company to close so a bigger money maker could come in, which seems far-fetched to me.