|Only a few miles from Wall Street, big business happens on Broadway too –credit|
Broadway is a risky business. Millions and millions of dollars are invested in productions, but often shows will “flop” or close early before those investments are recouped.
The musical, Big Fish, was 2013’s biggest disappointment even though it seemed to have a lot of promise. What determines if a show will be a smash hit, or a dud?
|Big Fish was a BIG flop, costing $14 million to produce, but running for only 98 shows.–credit|
Brandon Ellis, a swing in the hit musical, Once, believes there are many reasons why a show may close early. “Sometimes they are terrible, sometimes they are too expensive, sometimes the advertising and marketing are poor,” he said. “And then, sometimes the audiences are just not ready for what you are giving them.” Ellis explained that operating costs also play a large factor in the success of a show’s run. Big Fish, with its huge, elaborate sets and special effects, could not break even on its investments, especially with the low audience attendance. However, Once, with its simple set and actors as musicians “is very inexpensive for a Broadway show. Our operating costs allowed us to recoup quicker than any show on Broadway since Rent,” Ellis said.
Perhaps the largest influence on Broadway productions is the tourist industry. According to the Broadway League, over 60 percent of Broadway’s profits come from tourists each year. With ticket prices starting at an average minimum of just under $100, out-of-towners aren’t going to spend that money to take a chance on something unfamiliar. The most successful Broadway shows of late have been those based on pop culture movies, books, or music. Jukebox musicals like Mamma Mia and Jersey Boys have remained top sellers. Tourists are drawn to what they already know and love.
|“The “dancing queens” at Mamma Mia jived for over 12 years at the Winter Garden Theater, and now they dance at the Broadhurst –credit|
Star power is another draw for tourists. According to Broadwayworld.com theater critic, Michael Dale, “If Norbert Leo Butz were a movie star, Big Fish would still be running. If Tom Hanks weren’t a movie star, Lucky Guy would have closed in a month.” Even though Butz is a two-time Tony Award winner, his name is only known in theater circles.
Reviews used to be key in determining the success or failure of a production. Famously, Carrie, despite great audience attendance, closed after just five regular performances following a harsh review in The New York Times. However, Dale said, “Critics don’t matter as much now as they did 30 years ago.” The quirky, short-lived, Lysistrata Jones earned raves from the Times but didn’t appeal to the Broadway crowds. It seems the power of the press has diminished and the people now have a voice.
|Wicked opened to lukewarm reviews, but word of mouth has kept this show a box office blockbuster for the past decade –credit|
It’s a shame that some of the great music from flop musicals never reaches the masses. Ellis’s favorite flops are “everything that Sondheim has ever written. He has never had a show that was both critically and financially successful.”
Dale loved Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, because it was “well-written and entertaining.”
My personal favorite flop was Dance of the Vampires, which starred the legendary Michael Crawford and featured epic music by Jim Steinman. I was in attendance for 4 of its 56 performances.
Due to massive production costs, poor audience attendance, negative reviews, and lack of star power on the stage, the fate of Big Fish has been sealed. However, if you find yourself in NYC in the near future, I urge you to take a chance on new, innovative, unknown theater. Before you buy your tickets to The Lion King, try If/Then starring Tony-award winner, Idina Menzel (the original Elphaba in Wicked). For something edgy, check out Neil Patrick Harris in the cult rock musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Or for a laugh, go see Off-Broadway’s hilarious, Disaster! The Musical.
You hold the fate of Broadway in your hands. You can keep hundreds of actors off the unemployment line. If you have a burning desire to hear the hits of ABBA, just turn on the radio.
|Perhaps when Hedwig sings “The Origin of Love,” you’ll discover your own love of theatre outside Broadway’s mainstream. –credit