Does a revival’s success depend on the success of the original?

My Producer-lunch-partner and I were in between bites of our Caesar Salads at Joe Allen’s when our conversation turned to flops. Most likely because the walls are covered with posters of them.

“I bet you this lunch that revivals of flops are also most likely to be flops too,” he said.

It was an interesting question.  Can a new production and concept of a musical take it from flop to financial success?  Does timing have something to do with a show’s “hit” status or is a piece that doesn’t work doomed to always be a piece that doesn’t work?

Questions like these fascinate me in my continuing search to try to moneyball Broadway the best one can (we’ll never be able to guarantee a show’s success or not, but we can find indicators that tell us how risky a Broadway investment is or not – and then we gotta go on our gut).

So I chewed the last few bits of my Chicken Caesar Salad super fast and bolted back to my office to start digging through the data.

My crackerjack research team (including my Assistant Lindsay and her Assistant Bridget) dug through the last 50 years of Broadway musicals only (no plays here – it was just too much data to parse and would have been unreliable in our judgement of whether many recouped or not) and pulled out all the shows that have had revivals since (not everything gets revived on Broadway, you know – Metropolis anyone?). Then, we got rid of the non-profits, special events, super limited engagements, Forever Tango revivals, etc., etc.  And for shows with multiple revivals, we looked at the most recent revival.

Once we had our sample, we googled our butts off, asked industry insiders, and even used some good ol’ common sense once or twice to judge whether or not a show recouped.

And here are the results (Data Drumroll please!):

Of Broadway Musicals that have had a revival . . .

  • 28.95% of the time, both productions recouped.
  • 23.68% of the time, neither production recouped.
  • 47.37% of the time, one recouped and not the other.

What’s interesting is that if you drill that 47.37% down further?  You discover that 100% of those productions that recouped were the original, not the revival.

So, without question, a show’s commercial success the first time around is much more likely to lead to commercial success the next time around.

That said, I think this stat is slightly skewed by the fact that costs for mounting shows are much higher than they were in the times of the original productions, so the degree of difficulty to recoup a show is greater than it was.

Still, even with that, and with a slight margin of error in looking at the data, there’s no question of the statistical advantage that hit shows have when revived again.

Think about that the next time you’re at Joe Allen’s and thinking, “I should do a revival of Via Galactica!”


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  • Daniel says:

    Damn, there goes my brilliant idea of reviving Howard Ashman and Marvin Hamlisch’s SMILE…

  • Bonnie says:

    Is that why Color Purple is closing? Even though the praise for the revival is so huge?

  • Tom Hartman says:

    I am also wondering the revival recoup ratio is higher if, instead of looking at the most recent revival, you look at the first revival. I mean, I get to a point where I don’t need to see a show for a long while…currently I have no need to see Sweeney Todd for years…a production of Follies, however, would be a must-have ticket for me.

  • Bunny13 says:

    It’s a Bird It’s a Plane it’s Superman had a bad title and was ahead of its time. Jack Cassidy was wonderful, so was Linda Lavin and the score was wonderful. I still sing You’ve Got Possibilities about assorted people….

  • Will Arnone says:

    I wish I’d read this before investing in the revival of “Side Show.” But I’d do it again!

  • Sally says:

    How well do revivals recoup on the road?

  • Mike says:

    Did the original production of *Sweeney Todd* recoup? I know the last revival did, and I had thought that the original lost money (it had a rather short run), but I could certainly be wrong.

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