Is There Really A Superstar Backlash On Broadway?

Mister D: I think you really have to take into count we haven’t even begun the general public sale. Also the national campaign has not even been rolled out yet. After that one can talk about whether there is a backlash or not…

Bette300

New York Post
B’way: starlight starblight
Backlash may hurt Midler show
By MICHAEL RIEDEL
Last Updated: 11:33 PM, February 14, 2013

Maybe she should sing.

Tickets went on sale last week for “I’ll Eat You Last,” a one-woman play starring Bette Midler, but there were no fireworks at the box office.

Backers were confident that the sale, offered exclusively to American Express cardholders, would reap at least $500,000, possibly $750,000.

A disappointed production source puts the wrap at less than $150,000.

The general public can snap up tickets beginning Sunday, and the producers are hoping to get a lift from an ad blitz over the weekend. But the lackluster start is further evidence that big stars just aren’t drawing on Broadway the way they once did.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Bette Midler’s not singing, and neither is her show’s box office.
I reported a few weeks ago that sales for “Lucky Guy,” starring Tom Hanks as newspaper columnist Mike McAlary, were just OK. The advance has improved since then, but, at about $5 million, it’s still far short of the $10 million or so Julia Roberts, Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig and Denzel Washington racked up in seasons past.

The producers of “Lucky Guy” are confident, however, that Hanks will join the $10 million club by the first preview on March 1. A little poke from this column the other week, and they revamped the ad campaign. The artwork now features a photo of Hanks, and the show is billed as a “New York play by Nora Ephron.”

“Orphans,” starring Alec Baldwin and Shia LaBeouf, isn’t going to be critic-proof when it opens on April 7. Sales simply aren’t that strong yet, despite a new ad featuring photos of Baldwin and LaBeouf.

(The old ad featured cans of tuna, which may have excited a few stray cats in Shubert Alley but didn’t do much for theater-goers.)

“There are too many stars on Broadway right now,” says a veteran producer. “The public is starting to take them for granted.”

Fairly or not, Al Pacino’s getting blamed for what some producers are calling a “superstar backlash.”

Pacino cleaned up in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but the production and his performance were panned by critics and disappointed audiences.

“People got burned on Al,” another veteran producer notes. “And ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ ” — starring Scarlett Johansson — “is hardly a thrilling evening in the theater. I think the public’s getting picky. It’s not enough to have a name. The star has to be good. The production has to be good. And the star has to be doing something the audience wants to see them doing.”

That may be the biggest strike against Midler. Her fans want her to sing — which she doesn’t do in “I’ll Eat You Last.”

She plays the late Hollywood agent Sue Mengers, a larger-than-life showbiz creature with a very colorful past. The tag line on the poster art reads: “A chat with Sue Mengers. She was more than an agent. She was a star.”

The trouble is, outside of the 90210 ZIP code, nobody’s ever heard of her.

I’m not saying that Midler and “I’ll Eat You Last” will wind up in the dustbin the way Katie Holmes and “Dead Accounts” did. Good reviews and positive word-of-mouth can turn even the most obscure play with a cast of nobodies into a hit.

But I think the get-a-star-and-they’ll-come formula is beginning to lose its potency.

One star who’s cleaning up on Broadway right now is Barry Manilow at the St. James. He’s giving his audience precisely what they want — one hit song from the ’70s after another. Plus glow sticks!

His run ends March 2, though executives at Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns the St. James, would be thrilled if he’d extend. The show is sold out most nights, with an average ticket price of $165.

It may be wishful thinking, but there’s talk of involving Manilow in the Tony telecast this year. One idea floating around is to have him and Midler open the show with a medley of Broadway standards and a few songs from her first album, “The Divine Miss M,” which Manilow produced, thrown in for kicks.

Now that would be giving them what they want.

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8 Responses to Is There Really A Superstar Backlash On Broadway?

  1. stephen says:

    You also have to take into account that this is from the NY Post and they want people to fail.

  2. Mister D says:

    Is there reputation really that bad? They do seem to be negative when I look back at past articles I’ve posted here. Thanks!

  3. stephen says:

    Yes very bad. They’re a ultra right-wing, conservative daily newspaper in NYC of all places. They froth at the mouth for murders, rapes and plaster awful pictures and headlines on their cover. They endorsed Bush, McCain and Romney. Oh yeah and they’re owned by Rupert Murdoch.

  4. Mister D says:

    I noticed they were the ones that made Bette look bad for having her Hulaween party….blecchhh! i hate them now…thanks for the info….xx

  5. Brian says:

    I didn’t necessarily read this as negative towards Bette in any way. The Post is definitely a tabloid, and Michael Riedel is a notorious theatre writer who looks for dirt wherever he can find it, but that’s just to sell papers.

    Because I’m in marketing for performing arts, I think this is just all a cautionary tale. Most Broadway shows don’t earn back their initial investment, and a lot of times people think they have a hit when they don’t. The point I’m taking away from this is that you can’t just say “We got Bette Midler to be in it” and expect people to flock to buy tickets. Bette Midler in a straight play won’t sell as well as Bette Midler in a musical. And the fact that it’s about someone most people have never heard of is just another stumbling block to overcome.

    I don’t think this saying “the show will fail” or “nobody wants to see Bette,” but that, in the world of Broadway, just putting a big star in your show doesn’t automatically guarantee blockbuster sales.

  6. Mister D says:

    Right. I hear what you’re saying and I would agree with you on that…xx

  7. Ross says:

    Such unsubstantiated BS … The show has done no publicity and yes while Sue Mengers is an unknown mainstream personality her story will be incredible and suit Bette to a tee, ESP when she starts actual promotion… If Bette wanted to sing she would do arenas and rake in the cash – good luck to her, she is surely going to win or be favourite for the Tony for this role

  8. Mister D says:

    Thanks Ross! xx