The Perils Of Opening Cold On Broadway!

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Posted: 12/2/10 at 9:23pm
The 2010-11 Broadway season is shaping up as a bounty of new musicals with ambitious original scores.
But new songs, untested on Broadway, come with risk, both artistically and, especially this season, financially.

More than $135 million is on the line in the 11 new musicals that are opening this season. Ten of them have original music, compared with just two in 2009/10, not even enough to fill the best original score category at the Tony Awards last June.

Yet the vagaries of audience interest in new musicals have already claimed a casualty.
Producers of “The Scottsboro Boys,” from the veteran composing team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, announced on Tuesday that the show would close on Dec. 12, after just two months.
The Perils Of Opening Cold On Broadway!

Most Broadway seasons include 5 to 10 new musicals. Lately many of those have been so-called jukebox musicals like “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” the 11th of this season’s new productions. Such shows feature well-known pop songs instead of original scores like those offered by “Scottsboro” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which are both open now, or the planned “Catch Me if You Can.”

“You can never predict how many musicals will open in a given season, but it’s clear that this season there are just a huge number of big-budget shows with brand-new scores, which is exciting for the theater but can be nerve-racking for producers, given all the competition,” said Jeffrey Seller, a leading producer of new musicals (“In the Heights,” “Avenue Q”) who is not involved with this season’s slate.

No theater producer interviewed could recall a season full of so many expensive musicals with new scores.
One, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” with its record-setting price tag of $65 million, has disproportionately skewed the shows’ total costs of more than $135 million. “Spider-Man” has music and lyrics by Bono and the Edge of U2, in their Broadway debuts.

The Perils Of Opening Cold On Broadway!
Among the other coming big budget musicals, several of which have had out-of-town tryouts, are “Wonderland,” at a cost of $15 million and featuring music by Frank Wildhorn, who works regularly on Broadway (“Dracula, the Musical,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” etc etc) yet has lacked a hit show.
“Catch Me” at $13 million, featuring music by the Tony winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”).
“Sister Act” with music by Glenn Slater and the Academy Award winning composer Alan Menken.
“Priscilla” at about $10 million apiece; and “The Book of Mormon,” whose cost has not been disclosed but is likely to total at least several million dollars. The “Mormon” music is by another new team, Robert Lopez of “Avenue Q” and Trey Parker and Matt Stone of the television series “South Park.”
The Perils Of Opening Cold On Broadway!

One reason for the bounty of new musicals, according to the producers of several of them, is ready money. The stock and bond markets remain uncertain investments, but there is still plenty of investor money sloshing around, as record-setting art auctions have shown.
While only 25 to 30 percent of Broadway shows make back their investments each year, a hit musical has been an abiding dream for generations of investors, and taking a chance on Broadway can be considerably more fun than watching stock tickers, producers say.

At the same time, some producers have been lowering their dollar minimums for an above the title producer credit, usually $500,000 to $1 million, which partly accounts for the crowd of names given prominent billing for “Catch Me” and “Priscilla.” Hal Luftig, one of the lead producers of “Catch Me,” said he lowered the above the title threshold to $250,000 to recruit some investors for the show.
“I tried not to let it get down to $250,000, but we had to,” Mr. Luftig said. “We’re an expensive show, and the reality is that there are a good number of investors out there who are excited about putting money into a high-quality production, but some of them are people looking to invest a few hundred thousand dollars, not millions.”
The Perils Of Opening Cold On Broadway!

James L. Nederlander, one of the lead producers of “Priscilla,” said he and his partners allowed one investor to share above the title billing with a partner, represented by a slash between the names of the two people, to cross the minimum investment threshold.
Such top billing can come with an array of production and party invitations, prime seats at the Tony Awards, even a spot on the stage of the Tonys during the CBS telecast should the investors’ show win for best musical.

“It’s an interesting time — it’s still tough to get million-dollar checks to invest in Broadway shows in this economy, but there are also many investors out there to cultivate,” Mr. Nederlander said. “If $250,000 is the best that these investors can do, it can be wise to bring them on board and build a long-term relationship.” He declined to provide the minimum amount (rumored at $1M) for above the title billing for “Priscilla.”

Some shows are still raising money, like “Wonderland,” a new imagining of the Alice story that remains a few million dollars short of its $15 million capitalization and is scheduled for an April opening.
“We have plenty of time still to raise the money before opening, but we’re getting a good response because we see ‘Wonderland’ as standing out as a family show in a season of new musicals that mostly aren’t aimed at families,” said Bill Franzblau, the show’s executive producer.

The arrival of so many shows in one season also reflects the availability of theaters on Broadway.
Plans to bring in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical, “Love Never Dies,” had been tying up the Neil Simon Theater until that show was postponed indefinitely; “Catch Me if You Can” is now going there.

Another major musical, “Fela!,” is closing after a year, clearing the way for “The Book of Mormon” at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. “Mormon” itself was supposed to run Off Broadway this year, but the commercial producers decided to take it straight to Broadway. Another new musical, “The People in the Picture,” is going into one of Roundabout Theater Company’s Broadway houses.

“Sister Act” found its future home at the Broadway Theater when producers of the hit musical “Promises, Promises” surprisingly decided to close this coming January rather than recast their show when its stars, Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, depart.
“We were waiting for the right theater, in terms of the number of seats, the size of the stage and the location in the theater district, and we decided to start moving quickly when we heard that the Broadway was coming open,” said Bill Taylor, one of the producers of “Sister Act,” which had its first major run at the Pasadena Playhouse back in 2006 and opened in London in 2009.

The rewards and risks for some of the new musicals are already becoming clear. “Elf,” which cost about $9 million to mount, had a strong week among the new shows during Thanksgiving week and may go on to be a recurring musical in future holiday seasons.

But three other current new musicals, “Scottsboro” (which cost $5 million), “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” ($4.5 million) and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” ($5 million) — have performed only modestly at the box office.
The Perils Of Opening Cold On Broadway!

Despite a score by Kander and Ebb, whose “Chicago” is still in revival on Broadway after 14 years, “Scottsboro” is closing after 49 regular performances and 29 previews.

The musical represented both a commercial and an artistic risk: an earlier Off Broadway run received mixed reviews, and the thrust of the work, setting the infamous Alabama rape trials from the 1930s to music and presenting them subversively as a minstrel show, was hardly a safe formula.
About 30 protesters gathered twice outside the theater in November, denouncing the minstrelsy and use of blackface as racist, but not even the ensuing attention to the musical helped improve ticket sales.

Updated On: 12/2/10 at 09:23 PM