Much has been made of the closing of five Broadway shows in the past two weeks: Be More Chill, King Kong, Pretty Woman, The Cher Show and The Prom. Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, wraps up this weekend and takes the total to six.
Certainly no one likes a closing. In the case of the shows on this list, it is presumed that all save for Constitution failed to recoup their investments. Constitution definitely paid back and went into profit.
It is estimated, and this seems a fair number, that more than $100 million in theatrical capitalisation was lost on these shows, unless some of them managed to pay back a portion of their investments. It is a sobering number nonetheless.
That said, a spate of August closings is hardly new. Along with post-Tony Awards closures and post-New Year’s closures, it is entirely expected. That the collective figure of loss is so high is simply a reflection of how expensive it is to get a show on Broadway these days.
Gone is the era when the original production of Follies, the most expensive Broadway show ever in its day, cost $800,000 to put on. Part of the financial success of Constitution is that it was a play, with a small cast, transferring from Off-Broadway with great reviews already in hand, and a lower capitalisation than most shows.
With respect and sympathy for the artists, producers, and investors in those shows that have just closed, less remarked-upon is how much new theatre has been announced in the same two-week period from August 6 to August 20. In what has seemed a whirlwind of news, eight new productions were revealed.
What are they? Two Pulitzer Prize winners – A Soldier’s Play and How I Learned to Drive – which have never played Broadway. The transfer from London of a musical, Caroline, or Change, which played 158 performances on Broadway in 2004 and its reputation has only grown since.
The London transfer of a holiday favourite – A Christmas Carol – which, surprisingly, has only previously been on Broadway as Patrick Stewart’s one-man show. Two new musicals – Diana and Flying Over Sunset – the former about the beloved princess, the latter about LSD use by Aldous Huxley, Clare Booth Luce, and Cary Grant. Two new works – Grand Horizons and The Lightning Thief – join a season already filled with plays.
At this point, there are 34 productions on tap for the Broadway season that runs until late April, in addition to shows that have already opened: Sea Wall/A Life and Moulin Rouge!. That means the current season is already edging on the high side of what an average roster brings, and it’s still only August. Earlier fears about no new original scores on Broadway are proved unfounded by the addition of the two musicals above, as well as Six, which Broadway will also welcome.
Because Broadway is a generally a closed universe of 40 theatres (with the Palace now offline for perhaps two years for construction of a new tower above it), the theatrical real estate is finite and these days, more limited than the shows jockeying for an opportunity would like. That seems a simplistic observation, but it’s often forgotten as fans and professionals express their dismay over favourites ending their run.
Of this month’s closings, none of the shows played for more than a year, which makes unscheduled endings harder on every level. It is less painful when a show wraps up a long run, as Beautiful and Waitress will do in the coming months.
Part of what keeps up the number of new productions on Broadway each year are 12 to 16 week runs, which allow a theatre to be booked twice in a season without having to wish for fall projects to fail. This year, with many larger venues made available, presumably more shows, likely musicals, are still to come. The way things are going, perhaps this list has expanded even before you’ve read it.
But to torture an old saying for theatrical purposes, it’s worth remembering: on Broadway, every time a stage door closes, a new show opens. Or something like that.
Howard Sherman is a New York based arts administrator and advocate. Read his latest column every Friday at thestage.co.uk/author/howard_sherman/