“Well, we’re moving on . . . down!”

Off-Broadway shows have always graduated to Broadway.

But in the last 5 years, we’ve watched a bunch of Off-Broadway shows graduate early.  Like smarty-pants Juniors with a lot of AP credits and perfect SAT scores, shows like Avenue Q, Spelling Bee, and Title of Show, have moved on to the big time and the bigger budgets, instead of staying Off-Broadway, like they would have 15 years ago when Off-Broadway was more fertile ground.

The logic behind the skip-a-grade mentality?  If you have a commercially viable product, and if you’re raising one million bucks, why not raise two or three, and get the built-in marketing machine that comes with a Broadway address (Tony Award eligibility, press attention, tourist attention, more advertising dollars, etc.)

Here’s my question:

Could it work the other way?  Could what goes up, also come down?

If Producers shoot for Broadway for the branding that comes with it, then after they get it, could they ever retreat to where they came from, or where they belonged in the first place?

I’m not talking a ‘hit’ and run here.  I’m talking the shows that are at the end of their Broadway runs, whether that’s a few weeks after the Tonys or a few years.

Could Spelling Bee, with its brand firmly in place after its Broadway run, have moved to a smaller theater Off-Broadway?  What about when the hard-workin’ Xanadu decides to call it quits.  Could it move and take a majority of its audiences with it, with a minority of its expenses?  Or what about those great plays that get expelled prematurely, like the acclaimed Journey’s End.  Broadway-ending grosses of a couple hundred grand a week would be like Xmas weeks Off-Broadway (certainly those grosses would drop, but then again, so would expenses).

Deals would need to be struck with the unions to ever attempt such a transfer, but if it’s a close-or-move situation, why wouldn’t they be reasonable?

There’d be a zillion other challenges: new design, tech costs, limited marketing dollars, and so on.  It would take the perfect storm of a show to ever give it a shot and a producer with some serious poobahs.

But someone will, and someone should.  As a Producer, it’s your job to do the due diligence on this and any other idea that could extend the life of your show.

Downsizing is part of every other business, why shouldn’t it be a part of ours?

  • Cedric Yau says:

    How has scaling worked for Disney? (though it’s still Broadway to Broadway).
    Could be feasible if designed from the start set-wise to minimize future tech/reconstruction. Would also need to figure out if Broadway-class paychecks can be supported unless recasting is desired.
    Having a complex with a 1500 and 499 seat theaters that offers compatible stages and tech might be an interesting development. You wouldn’t even have to truck the set.

  • Joseph Millett says:

    I think the problem with this is that no actor in his right mind would take a pay cut to keep a show open (they aren’t writers being paid on a percentage). And it isn’t like you could cut the size of the cast. Sets may have to be redesigned and rebuilt (imagine “Phantom” at the Lortel), which will actually cost more. I think if the only thing that downsizes is your rent, you may wind up spending more than you think. Certainly “Avenue Q” and [title of show] could go back to off-Broadway, but most Broadway musicals, with their focus on pagentry, would have a hard time of it.

  • I think it would be great if this option was readily available to creatives and producers in order to preserve the longevity of their piece. Shows that get weighted down by B’way P&Ls deserve the chance to be downsized before being dismissed (ref. PASSING STRANGE). And some shows, after taking residence in their big fancy B’way houses, may just find that there is no place like home (ref. [TOS] or SPRING AWAKENING (which I wish I’d seen at the Atlantic)).

  • Mark Selby says:

    We Will Rock You in Toronto has done something very similar to what you’re suggesting, Ken … they scaled the show down to fit a smaller theatre, while opening up its former home, a much larger space, for several touring productions booked for the fall.
    Here is the Playbill article:
    … and the Toronto Star review of the new show:

  • David Arbuckle says:

    Downsizing probably isn’t likely. Once a show has played on Broadway, most show producers stand to make a WHOLE LOT more money in licensing the show to regional and local theatres than to continue to produce something so expensive off-Broadway.
    It’s a good analogy, but apply it to other entertainment fields like sports, for example. Do you think the Orioles and Pirates would be more competitive if they were reduced to minor league teams? Certainly. Will the cities go for it–no way. Would it be more profitable for the owners–no way.
    Of course, if the performers, writers and producers could agree to pay and net profit cuts just to keep a show running, it’s possible. But I don’t think you’ll ever see that trifecta agree all at once to downsize to off-Broadway.

  • Back in the 1950s, Simply Heavenly transferred from off-Broadway to Broadway (one of the first shows to do so), then back to off-Broadway for a few more months.

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