Broadway is trying extra like Common Studios than the epicenter of nice theater as of late. Mainstream manufacturers are squeezing out scintillating artwork that when dominated the boards. Exeunt: “Sweeney Todd,” “Gypsy” and “Hire.” Enter: “Margaritaville,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Frozen.”
One longtime theater critic instructed me the final 10 months of exhibits made up “the worst Broadway season in reminiscence.”
It’s a surprising reversal. In 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking hit “Hamilton,” a hip-hop historical past of America’s first Treasury secretary, conquered popular culture. And solely a yr in the past, Broadway was celebrating three different extremely progressive and thrilling new musicals, which sprung from daring narrative ideas: “Expensive Evan Hansen,” “Come From Away” and “Natasha, Pierre and the Nice Comet of 1812.”
“The Nice Comet” is an electro-pop adaptation of Tolstoy’s “Conflict and Peace.” “Come From Away” appears to be like at how 9/11 modified life in a small Canadian city the place flights had been grounded for days. “Evan Hansen,” in the meantime, bravely confronts teen bullying and suicide. The latter two musicals are nonetheless among the hottest tickets on Broadway, whereas “Hamilton” continues to be, effectively, “Hamilton,” repeatedly grossing greater than $three million every week.
What did we study from their boffo box-office success? Nothing, apparently.
The unlucky shift to schlock comes as Hollywood, the media, publishers and nearly anyone with one thing to promote are aggressively courting Center People, whom they beforehand uncared for, in the wake of President Trump’s win.
However, like a husband attempting to make up for a forgotten anniversary with an Edible Association, the apology is worse than the unique oversight.
Of their clamor to coddle audiences, Broadway producers have forgotten that Center People even have fairly good style. They’re not simpletons hell-bent on seeing acquainted names and titles; they’re simply common individuals on the lookout for an excellent night time out.
“The belief has been that solely large manufacturers and film stars are positive bets for vacationers,” one Broadway producer instructed me. “However audiences are mainly on the lookout for exhibits that talk to their humanity.”
These savvy vacationers are the trade’s lifeblood. Through the 2016-17 season, they bought 61 p.c of Broadway tickets, based on the Broadway League. Home vacationers numbered 6.1 million — or 46 p.c of all attendees. However lots of the exhibits at present catering to them belong in a Occasions Sq. gutter, not a legendary theater, and theatergoers are telling producers simply that with their wallets.
“Escape to Margaritaville,” a boneheaded jukebox stuffed with Jimmy Buffett’s tequila-tinted tunes, would appear a Holy Land for Parrotheads, worshipers of the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” singer, who frequent his live shows, eating places, bars and accommodations. However the critically maligned musical has been struggling to promote full-price tickets. Final week, “Margaritaville” took in $675,850. That’s lower than half of its potential gross (usually 60 p.c is thought-about healthy-ish.) Critics and audiences are rightfully loathing the present’s hokey heartlessness — and even Jimmy diehards are steering clear. “Why pay for a flight and tickets to a dud musical,” they need to assume, “after we might go see a improbable Buffett live performance as an alternative?”
One other brand-name musical failing to soak up audiences is “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which opened in December. Primarily based on the Nickelodeon TV program aimed toward youngsters aged eight to 11, the present has been about 60 p.c full throughout its worst weeks, and is vulnerable to turning into a beached whale by the Tony Awards in June.
Will future exhibits replenish theaters with unique, out-of-the-box work? It appears to be like unlikely
Even “Frozen” — the theater adaptation of Disney’s widespread ice-queen film — isn’t promoting a blizzard of tickets. Although the supply materials is inventive and lovable, on Broadway it’s as energetic as a Madame Tussauds wax determine. Which may very well be why the stage model of probably the most widespread animated motion pictures ever made was simply 93 p.c full final week, lower than a month after opening. In the meantime, “Hamilton,” “Come From Away” and “Expensive Evan Hansen” had been all standing-room-only.
The resale market — the very best indicator of a present’s true demand and longevity — tells the identical story. Go on StubHub proper now and also you’ll discover particular person tickets to “Hamilton” on sale this week for $600. “Expensive Evan Hansen” and “Come From Away” for $230. Penny-pinchers can spend the night time at “SpongeBob” for $45 and “Escape to Margaritaville” for $75. Disney’s seeming juggernaut “Frozen”? A measly $49.
This isn’t to say that exhibits with model recognition can’t resonate with audiences. However “The Lion King,” nonetheless going sturdy at 21 years previous, didn’t turn out to be Disney’s most profitable musical ever simply because individuals know the title. Director Julie Taymor completely redefined it for the stage, making unprecedented use of custom masks and puppetry. Theatergoers had been thrilled and moved. In the meantime, one other cherished Disney property, “The Little Mermaid,” was a flop that closed in lower than two years as a result of it was extra involved with pointless design thrives than Ariel’s wealthy emotional life.
Will future exhibits replenish theaters with unique, out-of-the-box work? It appears to be like unlikely. The superb however extraordinarily industrial “Harry Potter and the Cursed Youngster” opens right now, whereas “Fairly Girl: The Musical” and “King Kong” are at present on the docket for subsequent season.
“Just lately, the worry is that Broadway is on its solution to turning into a theme park,” my producer supply instructed me.
Whether or not from the Higher West Aspect or Kalamazoo, Mich., audiences coming to Broadway wish to see the recent present, with nice phrase of mouth and important acclaim, realizing full effectively they’ll depart moved and entertained. It appears to be like just like the glory days of 2015 are far behind us.