Generic Producer #1: Okay guys, how do we make a critically and commercially-successful production?
Generic Producer #2: Big-name hollywood actors?
Generic Producer #3: Bio-plays or bio-musicals of icons from the 50's, 60's or 70's?
Generic Producer #4: Adaptations of hit movies?
Generic Producer #5: It doesn't matter - just as long as it opens around the Tony nominations.
Generic Producer #1: Brilliance!
The Glass Menagerie/Shakespeare in Repertory: HAHAHAHAHAHA, bitches please.
Even thought I'm excited for the next three months of theatrical epicness - you know, as anyone would be - there is a void left by two (three) of the recent departures. Twelfe Night/Richard III jettisoned last week, while The Glass Menagerie departed on sunday.
And what did these two (I mean, three...okay, I'm just gonna treat the Shakespeare productions as one production) productions have in common? Well, aside from both productions being revivals of classic literature, they received across-the-board raves, earned placements on nearly every top-ten list of 2013, had their runs extended, recouped their investments (and then some), and for many performances, were completely sold-out, if not, close to it.
You know, no big deal or anything.
Oh, wait...kind of a big deal, if you ask me. It took these productions to be as fantastic as they were - amazing direction, scenic designs and ensembles - for on-the-fence ticket buyers to believe the hype and see it for themselves. In fact, it was refreshing to see the audiences show up in large swarms (nice job, lovely people!) - every Broadway production, regardless of their quality, needs their audiences to support them if they want to keep going (just ask Wicked and The Lion King). I did standing room for Twelfe Night and Menagerie in their final days on Broadway and the rush lines, as well as the audiences in general, were stockpiled with people hellbent on not missing out.
Now, Menagerie did have Zachary Quinto above the marquee and I don't doubt his star power. Also, Cherry Jones and Celia Keenan-Bolger (and Mark Rylance and Samuel Barnett on the Shakespeare in Repertory crew) have their followings, I'm sure. But by comparison, this past Fall's Betrayal, thanks to the casting of Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, was nearly sold-out months before they had their first preview. Ain't nothing wrong with that - I love it when Broadway is bursting with cha-chings! - but Menagerie and the Shakespeare productions had their critical success assist with their commercial success. Betrayal just had its box office grosses eclipse its critical precedent. I know we should take our successes however they happen, but pardon me for singling out the productions that earned their keep beyond casting.
If I had to venture a guess, I would have pegged the Menagerie/Shakespeare productions to be critical successes and, if they were to recoup, it would be in their final days of performances. Yeah, they totally exceeded my expectations. Like a couple of bosses. In particular, Twelfe Night/Richard III exceeded its gross potential four weeks out of its run and accumulated $13.9 million dollars overall. Its initial investment was $3.1 million, so hypothetically speaking, if its production costs topped out at $400,000 a week (it ran for 18 weeks, so $7.2 million total), that means the production netted a profit of around $3.6 million. That is astounding. Even if it netted a profit of half of that, that would still be great in a day and age where only 25% of productions recoup at all...
I pry myself on having the foresight to predict success or failure of anything theatre-related and I would have never have guessed that these productions would achieve anything close to the success that they had. I'm so glad I'm wrong...and, like, I don't usually feel that way.
And you know what else...Twelfe Night/Richard III sold some 250 seats of each performance to the audience at the price of $25. And it still grossed that much money? Talk about a double FUCK YOU.
You may be wondering who that FUCK YOU is directed at. I'll tell you...the people who think that Broadway is a "money first, quality second" ordeal. Menagerie, the Shakespeare productions and the people behind them just inadvertently doled out a masterclass on how to make money on Broadway. You may get lucky with your Denzel Washingtons and Motowns selling tickets hand-over-fist...and to be fair, you may have your well-received The Scottsboro Boys depart prematurely. But a stellar production, no matter what it is or who it is geared for, is just as likely to breed ticket sales, simple as that. No pandering to a target demographic. No biographies or movie adaptations. Just well-rendered art and entertainment coming alive on stage. When the shows kicking ass are a Tennessee Williams character study that gets revived every decade and a Shakespeare piece(s) that is not Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth (because Broadway failed at both of those this Fall; just pointing it out), that is when you know anything can happen.
I'm done here. Later Menagerie and Shakespeare, flawless productions whom were flawless. Thanks for the memories...see you at the Tonys!
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Photo Credit: Michael J. Lutch