GUTENBERG! Packs Them In, But Tonys Still Veto Producers' Eligibility Request

A bright spot at the box office that has never been on Broadway before, the show will be competing in the revival category at the Tonys.

By: Dec. 04, 2023
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GUTENBERG! Packs Them In, But Tonys Still Veto Producers' Eligibility Request

Gutenberg! The Musical! has been one of the few 2023-2024 season bright spots at the box office. I admit, it has outpaced my expectations. A rare musical not based on pre-existing source material—while Johannes Gutenberg was the real-life inventor of the printing press, I think we can all agree the musical is not as pegged to his life as, let’s say, Harmony is to the The Comedian Harmonists—one would think Broadway would want to support it as a new musical, to show those are still produced on the Great White Way. And it will be considered “new” in Broadway League statistics, as it’s never been on Broadway before. I spoke to approximately 100 patrons outside the theater and not one heard about it before this year. But, it’s almost 20 years old, and so the Tony Awards Administration Committee has deemed it should compete in the Best Revival category. I’m hearing that move was against producers’ wishes.

The Administration Committee determines "in its sole discretion" whether a piece is "new" or a "revival” after reviewing a production’s request. Some assumed that Gutenberg! wanted revival, where it has less competition. However, sources tell me the producers wanted new, they just didn’t get it. I’ve written extensively about how random the application of the “classics” rule is. (Click here or here for but two examples.) This season, for example, Here Lies Love, a musical that shares the same director as Gutenberg!, and is over ten years old, will compete as a new musical. You could say: “Well, Gutenberg! is from the aughts!” But, Kite Runner was from the aughts and that was ruled “new” last season despite multiple prior productions. You could say: “Well, Gutenberg! is available for license, whereas Here Lies Love was not.” But, The Thanksgiving Play was one of the most produced plays in America before it hit Broadway, and still it was deemed new. In other words, one factor doesn’t seem to carry the day.

Based on the people I spoke to outside the theater, you wouldn’t think Gutenberg! was in the popular repertoire. While I know people familiar with the show’s history have attended, the 100 I spoke to—some post-weeknight performances, some after a Saturday night show—were unfamiliar with the title pre-2023. So what brought them there? Gutenberg! has been packing them in. In its nine eight-performance weeks, the show has been at over $750,000 every single one, over $900,000 five of those weeks, with two of those topping the $1 million mark. Part of my job is to know in advance what will sell; producers/investors rely on me for that. I would not have predicted these grosses. The number one thing I failed to predict is the appeal of the Josh Gad/Andrew Rannells combo for people who were Book of Mormon fans. Over a quarter of the people I spoke to said they were drawn to the show because of them. I was expecting some fans of each actor’s television and film work, and I got a handful, but nowhere near the amount of people who were drawn to the pair together. (Additionally, a woman I spoke to bought tickets after following Gad’s social media posts about antisemitism, and I ended up hugging her in solidarity.) Others were there primarily for a good time, they wanted an escapist musical; some of these folks had already seen Shucked. There were very few first-time theatergoers among the folks I spoke to. Many that didn’t attend specifically for the guys, were drawn in by the ads, which more than one described as “fun,” but even more heard from friends that the piece was enjoyable. (Of course, as always, there were also those that did not recall what drove the purchase.) Interestingly, less than half of word-of-mouth attendees were familiar with the guest producer concept, so either the folks who recommended the show didn’t care about that part or they purposely left it as a surprise.  

It is always hard to replicate success, but I suspect people will be looking at Gutenberg!, which has a low running cost for a musical, and thinking about what they can learn from its appeal.

Industry Trends Weekly is a short column that runs in the weekly Industry Pro Newsletter. To read past columns and subscribe https://cloud.broadwayworld.com/rec/ticketclick.cfm?fromlink=2263077&regid=&articlelink=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.broadwayworld.com%2Ftopic%2FIndustry-Pro?utm_source=BWW2022&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=article&utm_content=bottombuybutton1. If you have an idea for the column, you can reach the author at cara@broadwayworld.com.



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