Broadway is wanting extra like Common Studios than the epicenter of nice theater lately. Mainstream manufacturers are squeezing out scintillating artwork that when dominated the boards. Exeunt: “Sweeney Todd,” “Gypsy” and “Lease.” Enter: “Margaritaville,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Frozen.”
One longtime theater critic advised me the final 10 months of reveals made up “the worst Broadway season in reminiscence.”
It’s a stunning 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 revolutionary and thrilling new musicals, which sprung from daring narrative ideas: “Pricey 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 “Warfare and Peace.” “Come From Away” appears to be like at how 9/11 modified life in a small Canadian city the place flights have 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,” often grossing greater than $three million per week.
What did we be taught 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 Individuals, whom they beforehand uncared for, within the wake of President Trump’s win.
However, like a husband making an attempt 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 Individuals even have fairly good style. They’re not simpletons hell-bent on seeing acquainted names and titles; they’re simply common folks searching for an excellent evening out.
“The idea has been that solely huge manufacturers and film stars are positive bets for tourists,” one Broadway producer advised me. “However audiences are mainly searching for reveals that talk to their humanity.”
These savvy tourists are the business’s lifeblood. Through the 2016-17 season, they bought 61 % of Broadway tickets, in accordance to the Broadway League. Home tourists numbered 6.1 million — or 46 % of all attendees. However most of the reveals presently 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 present filled 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 motels. 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 % is taken into account 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 have to assume, “after we might go see a incredible Buffett live performance as a substitute?”
One other brand-name musical failing to take up audiences is “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which opened in December. Primarily based on the Nickelodeon TV program aimed toward children aged 8 to 11, the present has been about 60 % full throughout its worst weeks, and is liable to changing into a beached whale by the Tony Awards in June.
Will future reveals replenish theaters with unique, out-of-the-box work? It appears to be like unlikely
Even “Frozen” — the theater adaptation of Disney’s standard ice-queen film — isn’t promoting a blizzard of tickets. Although the supply materials is artistic and lovable, on Broadway it’s as energetic as a Madame Tussauds wax determine. Which may very well be why the stage model of one of the crucial standard animated motion pictures ever made was simply 93 % full final week, lower than a month after opening. In the meantime, “Hamilton,” “Come From Away” and “Pricey Evan Hansen” have 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. “Pricey Evan Hansen” and “Come From Away” for $230. Penny-pinchers can spend the evening at “SpongeBob” for $45 and “Escape to Margaritaville” for $75. Disney’s seeming juggernaut “Frozen”? A measly $49.
This isn’t to say that reveals with model recognition can’t resonate with audiences. However “The Lion King,” nonetheless going sturdy at 21 years outdated, didn’t turn into Disney’s most profitable musical ever simply because folks know the title. Director Julie Taymor completely redefined it for the stage, making unprecedented use of conventional masks and puppetry. Theatergoers have 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 prospers than Ariel’s wealthy emotional life.
Will future reveals replenish theaters with unique, out-of-the-box work? It appears to be like unlikely. The superb however extraordinarily business “Harry Potter and the Cursed Youngster” opens right now, whereas “Fairly Girl: The Musical” and “King Kong” are presently on the docket for subsequent season.
“Not too long ago, the worry is that Broadway is on its approach to changing into a theme park,” my producer supply advised me.
Whether or not from the Higher West Facet or Kalamazoo, Mich., audiences coming to Broadway need to see the new present, with nice phrase of mouth and significant acclaim, figuring out full effectively they’ll depart moved and entertained. It appears to be like just like the glory days of 2017 are far behind us.