It’s official: Broadway to Off is not just a fad. It’s a phenom.

Earlier this week, Million Dollar Quartet announced that it would be closing June 12th.

But it won’t be gone for good.

MDQ will become the latest show to transfer from Broadway to Off-Broadway as it moves into New World Stages in July.

It’s the fourth show to make such a move:  Avenue Q, The 39 Steps, the upcoming Rent, and now, MDQ.  And all of them taking up tenancy at New World Stages (Boy, there were times during the run of Altar Boyz when we were the only show in the building – I don’t expect a show to feel that lonely anytime soon – good news for the owners in what is a fantastic turnaround play.)

It was almost three years ago that I wrote this blog suggesting that Broadway producers look at this model, and it has been almost two since the Producers of Avenue Q courageously decided to go where no Producers had gone before and made the move (and brought us on to GM).  And then the domino effect began.

Because of that blog a few years ago, and because of the surprising MDQ news, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from readers and reporters alike about what I think now that four shows have done it.

So what do I think?

It’s awesome for all the reasons I wrote about before.  Avenue Q was about to close.  As was 39 Steps.  One can only assume MDQ was about to do the same.  And I don’t think a Rent revival was in the cards in the short term.

Jobs were created.  Theaters were filled.  Investors continue to make money or have a shot at getting more back in the case of unrecouped shows.  What could be bad about that?

Well, there is one thing.

What about new commerical Off-Broadway shows?

As if it couldn’t get any tougher for anyone trying to make a go of it with a new commercially-produced play or musical, it just did.  Because Broadway . . . just got bigger.  That’s right, with Broadway branded shows now appearing in Off-Broadway venues, guess where patrons are going to go first when considering an Off-Broadway show?  Oh, and remember those good deals you used to get because Off-Broadway venues needed to fill a hole, or a vendor needed the biz wherever and whenever he or she could get it?  Well, there’s not as much desperation anymore since mini-Broadway was born.

I’m thrilled about this new distribution model for our industry.  Overall, it’s a great thing.  But now, looking at the landscape, I fear for the commercial Off-Broadway musical . . . as it’s becoming an endangered species.  Oh, they may pop up every now and then, but are they making money?

And the commercial play?  Well, shoot, it’s becoming as much of a myth as the Big Foot.


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  • Amyleigh1982 says:

    Gee, it’d be great (yet unlikely) if Phantom would move Off-Broad in preparing for Love Never Dies. As it’s been discussed before, both of them running on “Broadway” at the same time is unfavorable. And the people will go wherever the Phantom leads them.

  • Chris says:

    I hear and understand your comments on both sides of the coin, but I’m not sure we’ll ever recoup what I remember as the 60’s off-Broadway model (that inexpensive place for experimental and non-commercial work.) I really like the idea of New World Stages as the second-run-cinema version of Broadway, where hits that aren’t drawing enough to take up a first-run house can have a longer life and continue to provide jobs and income. Mostly, despite my love of 60’s off-Broadway and everything it gave us, I’ve always wished the line between Broadway and off-Broadway were blurred (at least as far as the Tonys and the general public’s perception of “professional” theater), and if NWS as a Musical Mall helps redefine the difference (or lack thereof) between Broadway and off-Broadway, I’m all for it. 🙂

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    It makes sense to move after the Broadway run and not close. It’s like bit sitcoms going into syndicAtion

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    Oops. HIT sitcoms

  • So this is the face of innovation? Are Broadway and Off-Broadway now to become first- and second-run cinemas? Sure, why not, already we’re reaching the stage of commercial poop that is lucky to open if it has a star attached who has presence and can sing on key 60% of the time. [sarcasm]Why not turn on and off Broadway into the same blockbuster formula that has Hollywood just flourishing artistically?[/sarcasm]

  • bob hawk says:

    It may be only a matter of time, whether months or years, before ROCK OF AGES goes BACK to Off Broadway. Remember, both RENT and AVENUE Q originated Off B’way as well. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if [title of show] also went back Off. (Maybe the original cast would not have wanted to do it — except maybe to launch it — but there have now been numerous productions of [tos] around the country, including at Paper Mill.) SPELLING BEE (which also originated Off B’way) is another example off the top of my head
    I think it’s great whenever an appropriately modest show (as opposed to WIZARD or PHANTOM or PRISCILLA) can extend its run, keep people employed and audiences entertained. My only question is, what is the margin of profitability, and now many butts in seats are needed to at least break even? It’s pretty well known that it took ALTARBOYZ two or three years to pay off. But. Ken, wasn’t it worth it to have all those happy audiences? And there are also a lot of thankful actors who had work, both at World Stages and on the road, not to mention the licensing rights (worldwide?).
    Anyway, I’m glad World Stages exists, and the fact that some shows can actually share a stage, thus having an even lower nut. Let those stage stay lit!

  • Ken, I always love your original thinking about this business, even if it’s from three years ago before I was following you and I’m just catching up to you.
    It seems to me that Broadway and now off-Broadway are following the book publishing model of being home to shows that already have an audience. (From the non-fiction side of the book publishing world, you have to have a following to get a book deal.)
    I don’t know if it’s terrible that straight plays and new musicals need to be developed by non-profits. It’s really good for a show to have an audience or reviews before it starts playing in a bigger house for a longer run.
    Here’s what is scary: It seems like regional theater is becoming the new road– and mostly for the most commercial new musicals, especially those based on movies– Sunshine State and Sleepless in Seattle, thus taking slots from original works not based on blockbuster movies.
    On the other hand, the cream always rises to the top. When something’s good, word travels fast, even if it debuts at a fringe festival.

  • Walt Frasier says:

    I have always prefered more intimate theater. In many cases the productions, and many modern performers, get lost on the big stage. Wireless microphones help fill the hall but teh intimate acting styles fall short on performance intensity. Without a 30+ chorus, there is little need for so much real estate. Off Broadway these productions can cater to their cult following and probably fill every seat at a fraction of the cost for producers and consumers. The guests will get more connected to the performers.
    Now you will see many more great entry level jobs that pay better than their regional counterparts and allow talent to be exposed to other producers – as well as film, TV and commercial projects – by staying in NYC. How many amazing young male performers got a break in Altar Boys before moving on to bigger projects?
    Traditionally I prefer a full Broadway Orchestra over a scaled down semi canned band, but these modern day shows sound great with a 4-6 piece rock band.
    PS I have a great space at 669 8th Ave for Off Bway producers looking for a deal!

  • John says:

    Wait a sec – jobs created? Don’t think so.
    RENT is being done on a shoestring. I’m sure MDQ will be a similar situation. Sure one can look at it in the sense that X amount of Local 1 members are losing a run-crew spot on a show. Then another show will come into that theatre later down the road, and those people will have jobs again…after they fill in elsewhere and filter into the rest of the Local 1 workforce. So that’s a moot point. The people who will fill the staff of these shows Off-Bway will have significantly lower wages, no benefits (except for AEA SM’s – of which there MIGHT be two on these transfers), and no security.
    So whats really happening is that jobs are just being moved around. That’s actually a bad thing. That means less time worked because of the changeover.
    Let’s not paint a broad, economically motivated gesture (moving a B’way show Off) in the altruistic light of “creating jobs”. Someone could correct me if I’m wrong, but all of those shows doing this move have recouped.
    And yes, let’s bemoan the basic assassination of commerical off!

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