Broadway is a funny old business: the stakes are high and the rewards can be massive. Just look at the weekly grosses, especially at this time of year in the midst of the summer when the tourists are in town (and desperate for the air-conditioned respite of a cool theatre where they are also being entertained at the same time).
And the week before last that ended July 28, attendances at 100% or over (thanks to the sale of standing tickets) were registered for a staggering eight shows, with five more clocking in with attendances between 96% and 99.5%, and four more again at over 90%. That’s 17 shows out of some 25 currently playing that are doing fantastic business.
There are five more whose attendance percentages are somewhere between 80% and 90%, amongst them two new musicals to the boards that are still in previews on Broadway after transferring from off-Broadway and a Seattle run respectively, which both ran just shy of 90%: Soul Doctor clocked in at 89.2% attendance, while First Date registered some 89.9% attendance.
That looks promising until you read closer, and notice that Soul Doctor achieved that attendance with an average ticket price of just $34.87, the lowest of the week on Broadway, while First Date was a bit better at $57.74 average ticket price, but still a long way from The Book of Mormon’s $198.66 average – higher than its own ‘regular’ top price tickets, though its premium tickets reach $477.
But what’s also interesting is where both these shows have arrived from to land on Broadway so unexpectedly in the height of the summer. First Date, which will open officially this Thursday at the Longacre Theatre after previews that began from July 9, was first produced at the Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre (ACT), in a co-production with 5th Avenue Theatre there, last March.
It got enthusiastic local reviews: in the Seattle Times, Misha Berson wrote:
Attending the world premiere of a new musical is rather like going out on a blind date. You don’t know what you’re getting into. Will you click with this stranger, or have little in common with him/her? Be bored stiff, or entranced?
She went to say,
The fix-up portrayed in the delightful new musical First Date at ACT Theatre isn’t an instant love connection. But this crowd-pleasing show attracts the audience from the moment nervous, nebbishy Aaron (Eric Ankrim) enters a bistro to meet sleek, skeptical Casey (Kelly Karbacz).
It was announced back in March that it had duly booked the Longacre for this summer transfer. But its Seattle stars aren’t accompanying the show to Broadway, at least not in the lead roles they created: Ankrim is understudying the role of Aaron, now being played by TV actor Zachary Levi, plus the other male roles; while Karbacz has been replaced by Krysta Rodriguez, previously seen on Broadway in The Addams Family and in TV’s Smash.
If people don’t like the show, it’s like them not liking usAlan Zachary
Obviously there are winners and losers in the Broadway power game, and if the original leads are amongst the losers, the show is at last getting its chance there, even if the original writing team had long given up hopes of having their work seen there. (In 2009, Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, childhood friends who started writing shows together at school together, were hired to write the score to a musical called Secondhand Lions, based on the film of the same name, but after working on it for almost four years, it didn’t happen – though it has finally been announced to open in Seattle later this year).
In a recent interview in the New York Times, Weiner described the process of bringing Blind Date to Broadway now as “a combination of exhilarating, thrilling, torturous, nauseating and completely one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever experienced in my life.” The New York Times suggests that sounds a lot like a good first date; and book writer Austin Winsberg adds, “Hopefully we’ll get invited back for a second.”
But neither are the authors able to be dispassionate about reactions to their work. Alan Zachary tells the New York Times, “If people don’t like the show, it’s like them not liking us.” Onstage, adds the paper’s reporter, “the characters talk about putting up walls to protect themselves. But the writers don’t have that luxury.”
Meanwhile, Soul Doctor sounds even more improbable and unlikely – it’s a jukebox musical with a difference, being based on the life and singing career of Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach, a singer-songwriter who popularised Jewish music in 60s America before dying in 1994. It was tried out at New York Theatre Workshop last August, and is now in preview at Broadway’s Circle in the Square, where it opens officially on August 15 after previews that began on July 17.
Its producer is Dr Jeremy Chess, whom the New York Times reported is “a New York retina surgeon who hasn’t produced a show before.” He also conceived the show himself about six years ago after noticing the popularity of Carlebach’s songs – a mix of soul, gospel and Jewish music – at weddings and other celebrations. He originally told the New York Times last August that he was looking at either moving it to Broadway’s Circle in the Square or Off-Broadway’s nearby New World Stages (where costs are significantly lower, but also so are the possible returns).
And he said then,
My guess is the show will happen at New World Stages, to be candid, because I believe in the art of the possible, but Circle in the Square would be perfect for us, because it’s a theater in the round. Carlebach was the sort of entertainer who really engaged and interacted with his audiences, and a theater in the round would let us strengthen that aspect of the performance.
It turns out he got his wish. Now let’s hope he can turn it into a hit, too.