Broadwayâ€™s 2012-13 Scorecard: New Shows Surprisingly Strong
June 27, 2013
Fallout from the Annual Tony Awards usually includes announcements of shows closing because their lagging box-office didnâ€™t get enough of a kick from the telecast. In an unusual development for Broadway, no less than six of this seasonâ€™s musical offerings grossed more than a million dollars in last weekâ€™s tally, led by â€œKinky Bootsâ€ ($1.5 milion), the winner of the Best Musical Tony. Also in the club were â€œMotown, the Musicalâ€ and â€œMatildaâ€ as well as the revivals of â€œPippin,â€ â€œCinderella,â€ and â€œAnnie.â€ Thatâ€™s an impressive show of strength, attributable to the fact that all are family-friendly and offer either spectacle or a familiar brand name.
At this point each of the shows look likely to recoup their respective investments. If so, that would mean that 50 percent of the commercial musicals presented this season will have gone into the black, an eye-raising statistic given that the average rate of success is 25 percent or less. Even more surprising is the success of the non-musicals, Broadwayâ€™s poor cousins. â€œLucky Guy,â€ â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last,â€ â€œGlengarry Glen Ross,â€ and â€œThe Heiressâ€ have already announced recoupement. And Christopher Durangâ€™s â€œVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,â€ which won the Best Play Tony Award, will probably announce next month that it has fully paid back its investment. Given that 10 plays flopped, the 33 percent rate of commercial success is not as good as that for musicals but still well above average. (A caveat: the jury is still out on â€œMacbeth,â€ starring Alan Cumming and â€œThe Trip to Bountiful,â€ with Tony-Award winner, Cicely Tyson.)
So what does that say about the present state of Broadway? Marquee names are good insurance. Itâ€™s arguable that without Tom Hanks (â€œLucky Guyâ€), Bette Midler (â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Lastâ€), Al Pacino (â€œGlengarry Glen Rossâ€), and Jessica Chastain, (â€œThe Heiressâ€), the ledgers for their respective shows would have been filled with red ink. However, even with stars you can still face insolvency. For all their clout, Scarlett Johannson (â€œCat on a Hot Tin Roofâ€) and Alec Baldwin (â€œOrphansâ€) couldnâ€™t drag their shows over the finish line.
Another lesson is that you can make end runs around New Yorkâ€™s critical establishment if your brand or star names are strong enough. â€œMotown, the Musicalâ€ received some of the worst reviews of the season and has been grossing well over a million dollars since it opened. On the other hand, unanimous raves couldnâ€™t save the Steppenwolf production of â€œWhoâ€™s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?â€ which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play as well as a trophy for its star, Tracy Letts. While this seasonâ€™s scorecard may entice more investors to try their luck on Broadway, the depressing news is that, with the exception of â€œMatildaâ€ and â€œVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,â€ this was one of the least imaginative seasons in recent history.
Photo by Joan Marcus