What the Tuck is taking up all our Broadway Theaters?

Last week, the Producers of the upcoming (and from what I hear, wonderful) new musical Tuck Everlasting, announced they were postponing its pre-Broadway Boston tryout due to the lack of an available Broadway houses this fall.

And unlike some other shows that have used that excuse, these Producers actually meant it.

I’ve always said that finding a Broadway theater for your show is like landing a plane at JFK on Thanksgiving Weekend.  You’re probably going to have to circle for awhile until you find the right runway.

Well, Tuck couldn’t even take off.

It has always been hard to find that Broadway home . . . but it is true . . . it’s getting harder.

Why?

Well, in modern times, when a show is a hit, it runs a Tuck of a lot longer.  Shows from the 1950s-70s didn’t run for uh . . . DECADES!  And now they do.

Phantom, Mamma Mia (which just announced a move to another theater to stretch out its run), Lion King, Wicked . . . where are these shows going?  Hmmm?  That’s why I postulated in this blog that we’d never have another “dark era” on Broadway again (although sometimes I think we could use a market correction, just like the stock market needs to blow off a little steam every once in a while).

But let’s get back to that availability issue to determine just how hard it is, shall we?

If you’re a Producer with a brand new show looking for a house for your new musical, you have 40 to choose from, right?

Well, there are 40 Broadway houses, yes, so let’s start with that.

40.

Subtract the Disney house, because . . . come on, they’re always going to have something.

39.

Now subtract the 5 non-profit houses and that leaves you with . . .

34.

Now subtract 16 for the long running musicals that aren’t going anywhere in the next 2-5 years.  (Already this season we’ve added 4-5 to that list that are going to be holed up for quite awhile (including my Kinky Boots!)

18.

Only 18 remain!  Less than 50% of the Broadway theaters on the market are actually in play.

And hold on, I’m not done with my math just yet.

From those 18, subtract 4 for the shows that have been announced for the coming year, taking those houses off the market as well.

And we’re down to 14!

Now, insiders tell me that 3 more of those are out of the running for the ’13-14 season with handshake deals for yet-to-be-announced but firm bookings by powerhouse producers.

And just like that, we’ve got eleven left.  Just 11.

Look, something always falls out, or unexpectedly closes, right?  So for margin of error’s sake, let’s add back 1 to get to an even dozen.

A dozen.  That’s right, if you’re a Producer of a brand new musical looking for a house in the coming year or so, you’ve got just a dozen to choose from.

Certainly you can find one that works for you out of that carton of eggs, right?

Well hold your press releases, Producer, because here’s the biggest rub of them all.

Those twelve remaining houses have an average capacity of . . . 1083.67.

And this is the Tuckin’ problem.

The theaters that remain are mostly play houses . . . and they lack the capacity to be able to support larger musicals at today’s cost of producing a musical (unless prices go up dramatically).

What does this mean?

Well, we’re just about maxed out on big musicals . . . there just isn’t a lot of room for them right now.  Give us another season or two like this one and even the couple of remaining big barns will be eaten up as well.  And then what?

And that’s my biggest takeaway from this mathematical exercise.

Despite the fact that Broadway audiences love big shows, If I was developing a musical right now (oh wait, I’m developing 3), I’d focus on small to medium shows; shows that I know can fit in a smaller house.  And I’d start telling my creative team now . . . “we’re most likely going to have to fit in a smaller box than we would have thought, so let’s make sure we start thinking creatively on how to handle that now, so we’re not circling the airport forever.”

Otherwise, you could end up be Tuckin’ homeless.

 

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Across the pond is a lot further than we think.

I saw War Horse when it was a wee pony of a show at the National Theatre and remember thinking how wonderful it was going to be on Broadway.

And it was.

Although it didn’t last as long over here as it did over there.

Same thing was true for Billy Elliot.  That little boy danced his tutu off for a couple o’ years on Broadway, while his British counterpart kept on pirouetting for another year more.

And Oliver?  Why, it hasn’t even been revived on Broadway since The Orwellian Year of 1984.  Almost 30 years!  I think we’ve had 14 revivals of Into the Woods since then.

Interesting trend, right?  I know, you’re saying it’s the economics.  Broadway is more expensive than producing in the UK, which is why hit shows over there may be hits over here, but for not as long.

Well, with that logic, wouldn’t it mean that hits from here would last longer there?

Like, oh, I don’t know . . . Rent.

Nope.

Avenue Q?

Sorry, Charlie.

In the Heights?

Hasn’t even been there.

Those are three Tony Award winning musicals (and one Pulitzer winner, btw), and none of them achieved the success across the Atlantic that they did here.

Not coincidentally, all those shows were set in NYC.  And War Horse, Billy Elliott, Oliver, etc. are set in jolly ol’ England.

Now look, there are obviously umpteen factors that determine the success or lack thereof of a musical.

But one of those factors is without a doubt geographic.  Producing a show in the city/county/country where it’s set, gives you an immediate in with the audience.  What an audience relates to, they are more likely to enjoy, and more importantly, recommend.

 

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When pop composers become musical composers.

Over the past decade or so, Broadway has had a popular music invasion, as artists like Elton John, Paul Simon, U2, The Eurythmics tried their hand at writing the score to a musical.  Some to success, others to not.  And this year, we’ve got Cyndi Lauper and Phish (!) joining the ranks, with Kinky Boots (!!) and Hands on a Hardbody respectively.

As someone who develops musicals, I have to admit, having a successful pop artist on the writing team is an attractive proposition.  They usually have a knack for melody, and come with millions of fans.

So why not take anyone who has a couple gold albums, right?

Well, like anything else that Producers do, it’s important that you don’t make a choice solely for marketing’s sake.  Art has to come first, no matter how tempting it may be.  Because as I said in an article about Spider-Man some months ago, “Writing a three minute song is a lot different than writing a three hour musical.”

Yes, memorable melodies and snappy hooks are an essential part of writing a quality score . . . but musicals tell stories, and musicals develop characters . . . and that’s not as easy as coming up with a catchy chorus and couple of words that stay top o’ mind (Taylor Swift’s “Trouble, Trouble, Trouble” comes to mind).

So when I’m in the market for a composer that may come from the popular music world, I look for song writers that tell stories in their songs first and foremost, whether or not they’ve got Grammys on their resume.  And as luck would have it, there are a few Grammy winners that have the knack (Elton, Paul, Billy, Bruce, Cyndi (!) and I always thought Tracy Chapman would write a great story-show).  Find one that can do both, and you could have an artistic and marketing one-two puncheroo.

But go after someone just because their tunes are on iTunes could get you in a lot of Taylor-like trouble, trouble, trouble.

Because just because a composer comes with millions of fans, doesn’t mean those fans will come out for your show.

 

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When was the last time there wasn’t a Sondheim show on Broadway?

Everyone knows that the great Mr. S. has had a major impact on the Broadway stage, right?

Well, get this.

Our office just noticed that there isn’t a show with songs by our “Shakespeare”  this season.  And for some reason that felt a little odd.

So we started sorting through the last few seasons of shows and realized it was odder than we thought.

In fact . . .

This is the first year since . . . ready for it . . . 1992 (!) that there hasn’t been a Sondheim show on The Great White Way.  Don’t believe me?  Check for yourself!

Shocking, right?  Shocking that there isn’t one, and shocking that for the last twenty years the Maestro has had some kind of representation on the boards.

What does this mean?  An anomaly?  Have we finally run out of his shows to revive?  Or, gulp, is he falling out of favor?  I don’t see any works slated for next season either . . . will it be two years in a row (trend alert).  Or will Passion move and put us back on track?

All those questions aside . . . I’ll end with this.  We should all stop for a moment and remark on the incredible feat that this man has achieved.  A show with your songs each year for 20 years?  Like it or not, recouping or not, this dude is a deity.

 

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Now let’s see how revivals are trending! Part II

Yesterday we refuted the notion that the number of new plays and new musicals were on a precipitous decline over the last thirty years.

Today we’ve got a couple more graphs for you, but this time we’re looking to find the revival trend line.  Are they increasing?  Decreasing?

Before you scroll down to find out the answer, take a guess.  Revivals of musicals?  Upward trend?  Downward?  Plays?

Ok, once you’ve placed your internal bet with yourself take a look below.

Here is a graph of the number of Revivals of Musicals over the last three decades:

revival musical

What do you see?  Well, I see a little lift off since around, oh, 1997.  The average for the entire thirty years is 3.6, whereas since ’97, it’s over 4.

If you remember correctly, that’s exactly when the trend for new musicals seemed to increase as well.  Coincidence? I think not.  What exactly happened then?  Not sure . . . but I’ll do some digging.  You have any thoughts?

Let’s move on to plays.  Here’s the chart:

revival play

Not surprisingly, revivals of plays do look like they are on their way up (thank you limited-run-star-driven-revival, and this trend seemed to have started in around 90-91, earlier then other increases.)

So what do today’s and yesterday’s graphs show us?  Well, the idea that new plays are on the downswing is a bit of a mirage, actually.  They’re not, really.  BUT they are the only genre out of these four that are remaining flat.  We’re seeing some amount of increase in the number of new musicals, and revivals of both plays and musicals.  But new plays are just kind of sitting there.

So how do we throw some gas on the new play graph?  Reduce risks for new plays on Broadway (should all parties, from Authors to GMs to Lighting Companies to Theater Owners get lower rates on new plays versus old, convince stars to do more new plays as opposed to revivals (separate Tonys for acting in new plays?),  lower prices for audiences of new plays?).

But the easiest answer is perhaps the hardest to accomplish.  We need great plays.

And that means we need great writers.

If you want to see more new plays on Broadway then do what you can, support new and emerging writers.  See more off-off Broadway shows.  Donate to a kick-starter.  Or if you’re a theatre pro, lend a developmental ear to someone that’s passionate about writing for the theater.

Because great artists are the best way to change the course of any graph.

 

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