Broadway has star power this fall including Al Pacino and Katie Holmes: the former in a revival of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, the latter in a new play called Dead Accounts by Theresa Rebeck.
Pacino has delivered a $6 million box office advance, but a few weeks ago producers set back its press performances. The hurricane was blamed – a lame excuse for a show already well into preview with the real reason seeming to rest more in that its star was not ready. However, why risk your advance for a set of poor notices when in truth you actually don’t need them?
Whilst Dead Accounts is sitting on a healthy advance and its star Katie Holmes may not be tripping over her lines, she instead is reluctant to do any solo press interviews – no doubt to avoid any awkward questions relating to scientologists. For its producers, however, here you have the frustration of a strong but not entirely proven name as your lead but with limited media opportunities to capitalise upon it.
This would seem like great news then for the B-listers on Broadway. Never had Henry Winkler (aka “The Fonz”) been more evident as he happily filled the empty void talking about his new play The Performers. It was seen as a golden egg for its producers to land this sort of press coverage but even so it still did not sell tickets, closing on November 18 four days after its opening.
Whoever the star is, it’s no longer an absolute cert for a sell-out Broadway season
Whoever the star is, it’s no longer an absolute cert for a sell-out Broadway season. Despite the millions of people who have seen The Mummy or George Of The Jungle, both quintessential mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, no one wanted to see Brendan Fraser in Elling, running for just nine performances after its opening in 2010. An even bigger star, Robin Williams, had an equally chequered run in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in 2011. The failure of these shows and their stars in them illustrates an important point: that those who may want to see Williams or Fraser on stage did not want to see them in these plays – their fans want them to be like they are in their movies.
Which is why Pacino will succeed irrespective of what any critic could write; as in Glengarry Glen Ross, he does exactly what it says on the packet in a play he has already acted in on screen (although in a different role) and as a result, audiences forgive the faults.
Robin Williams played against type but had a healthy advance only for poor reviews and word mouth to decimate it. That offers a stark warning for the forthcoming productions of Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy and Scarlett Johansson in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Producers banking on the power of their stars’ names have put them into large houses more traditionally used for musicals. If the gamble pays off, then with great reviews comes healthy sales – but it’s potentially a lot of empty seats if it doesn’t.