Another sign that Big Business is doubling down on Broadway.

Like Paul Revere on his favorite ride, I’ve been e-shouting that “Big Business is coming!  Big Business is coming!” for a few years now.

When I started blogging back in ’07, movie companies had little, if any, presence on Broadway (one executive told me they’d rather just let Broadway Producers license their work – now all of the studios have theatrical departments), the thought of a major TV network producing a musical based on one of its cartoons was as crazy as the idea of Donald Trump running for president, and if you wanted a Broadway theater, you could get one without too much of a wait.

Ahh, how things have changed.

Broadway is big business now . . . with big entertainment brands swooping in to see how they can capitalize on the billions of dollars of tickets sold every year.  I mean, really, did you ever think you’d see a “new” version of Harry Potter debut on the stage first? (I know, that’s not on Broadway . . . but you can bet your owl it will be).

So sure, lots of studio-sized shows have popped up on our stages or are on their way . . . but that’s not all that’s changing.

Just last week, a circus-sized show announced another move that demonstrated the new type of thinking that comes with big business on Broadway.

Paramour, the brand new Cirque du Soleil extravaganza that has taken up residence at the Lyric Theater, is going back into the rehearsal room to make significant changes to the show, and even shutting down for four performances to put those changes in.

Cost?  Not public, but it has got to be a couple of mil, when you factor in the loss of revenue from the canceled performances.

Making changes to Broadway shows is not new . . . but it normally happens between the Broadway run and the National Tour.  Or between the Tour and the release of stock and amateur script.  But, and what Cirque is smartly asking is, “What good does that do the Broadway company?”

This is how big business thinks . . . when you’ve invested $25 million to create a product, what’s a few more million to upgrade that product, if you feel those upgrades can improve it?  You’re already in deep, right?  And if you see that your current product is doing at least ok, but could be doing better, shouldn’t you go for it?  These companies run marathons not sprints.  And they haven’t even reached their half-way point yet.

Well, most Broadway Producers just don’t have the cash to justify that kind of expenditure. Corporations such as Cirque or giant movie companies or TV networks, who are not only looking to build a Broadway success, but are also trying to expand a brand, can dip into their big boy balance sheets to pay for these kind of expenses, amortizing their expenses over their entire company.  (Another reason why I wonder if we should be negotiating side by side.)  But a move like Cirque’s makes me wonder if we’re being short-sighted?

Should all musicals that don’t get it quite right out of the box get a chance to make it better during their run?  Could that improve word of mouth?  Isn’t that what separates the theater from novels, paintings, film . . . once those are done, they’re done.  But our art form lives and breathes each night, which allows for modification.

Our current economic system doesn’t allow for this search for perfection, unless you’re a Cirque sized company.  But I wish it did.  Because I’d expect it could make a lot of shows a lot better, which would make our audiences happier, and our industry stronger.

 

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Comments
  • David Merrick Jr says:

    I saw the show last week and my advice is simple: more Cirque, less Musical.

    The first Ahhh! moment from the audience happens midway through the first act with the flying Blond Twins. They are fantastic! I would tell you their names but this is the first Broadway show in memory not to bother with a program!!

    I’m glad Cirque is on Broadway but the Musical part of the show is, let’s face it, cheesy.

    Less of THAT and more of why people go to Cirque in the first place.

  • Carvanpool says:

    Here’s a little surprise….

    Bigger doesn’t mean smarter!

    Cirque has been flailing about for years, and their record in NYC is far from stellar. Just because they can mismanage a larger pot of money doesn’t mean that the “little guys” have anything to learn from them.

    I suppose if they were to jump off a roof, you’d do that too?

    • Kit says:

      In fairness, they kind of do. That is the premise of their show, is it not?

      To the point at hand… if you have the money and don’t mind losing some, then go for it. Who can say whether or not it’s a good idea until it’s done anyhow? Smaller producers are not really players on Broadway anyway, so quit comparing your situation to theirs. Try something different.

  • ChrisM says:

    Honestly, I’ve seen first hand what Cirque has done to entertainment in Las Vegas and personally I wish they’d stay there. Casinos that used to fill showrooms by providing rotating big name performers (not long run performers “in residence”) are now trying to outdo each other with various Cirque “theme” shows. But really, with the exception of different costumes, music and “theme”, how much different is there from one (very talented) acrobatics show to another? If, after these changes to “Paramour”, Cirque becomes a wildly popular box office smash you can bet there will be a second, third and more cirque shows to follow until they do to Broadway what they did to Las Vegas. Sorry but this isn’t Broadway theatre to me although there are plenty of others whom I’m sure will find it acceptable. I see almost everything that opens every season (along with a few repeats) but “Paramour” has yet to get my money and it won’t regardless of the changes.

  • Steven Conners says:

    Everybody, loves a winner! But winning doesn’t have to be all that complicated. True, there is much big and costly entertainment out there for all tastes. That is why the cookie-cooker, sound-alike productions may have run their course. That’s why “Big” is in. They have the movie pre-sell and all the rights to products that the public already knows. However, Broadway-Film-Music are not creative any more. They all seem to follow the herd. I think the successful plan, simply stated is: Distinctiveness-Inimitability-Uniqueness. One of a kind. And, to have something that others can’t copy -that only you have- is surely to win. Idea: Maybe the secret
    to a winning scheme (like the old days) is merely to provide an entertainment product that no one else can present. —sjc

  • Kristopher Weaver says:

    I’m going to depart from my prior fellow commenters here, keeping in mind that humanity once thought the world flat.

    I think it’s a fantastic idea. Theatre is a living, breathing art form, and we can rely on that core element to guide us through potential evolutions in our rituals, such as this one.

    After all, as learned from one heroine in a famous animated feature, showing a little love can undo the pain of being frozen; we could do with a little thaw-out, post opening. The less stuffy, the more room to breathe.

  • Brent Rogers says:

    Question: Ken, did I read in one of your blogs that Disney is a major investor in Kinky Boots?

  • John C. Luzaich says:

    As you know, many musicals go through changes in previews prior to opening. When Joseph was in our Off-Broadway Entermedia Theatre (’81,) Andrew & Tim wrote a new song to start the show after we’d been running for awhile. They kept it in once the show moved to the Royale after 12 weeks. It was also written for a male narrator and a female didn’t go into the role until our production (Laurie Beechman.) In fact Clevon Little was the narrator in the BAM production that Patty Birch choreographed in ’76. Frank Dunlop directed the show multiple times going back to ’72 in England. That show was in constant change DURING productions.

    • David Merrick Jr. says:

      John C.,

      I saw that JOSEPH production at BAM in the 70s. I thin it was the American premiere, right?

      Jesse Pearson, who played tht etitle role in the film version of BYE, BYE, BIRDIE, played the Pharoah…ala Birdie!

  • Joe says:

    Where once the out of town tryout in New Haven, Philadelphia or Boston would allow for such changes, it now seems that shows are coming straight to Broadway. The readings and workshops aren’t always the best place to fine tune a show: sometimes you have to put it in front of people and see what sticks to the wall and what slides down.

    There are plenty of shows that are “mostly” great and then fall apart somewhere (i’m looking at you BIG:THE MUSICAL and BIG FISH). I would rather see a company make the investment, shut down for a week to re-tool and bring their finished product back better than ever.

    Of course, I don’t have millions to throw at a show.

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