Overheard at Angus Vol. X: How a title can change over time.

Ok, this “overheard” entry didn’t happen at Angus.  It happened in Massachusetts about a week ago, when my Mom took one of her grandkids, a second grader, to see a show at the local theater.  The show?  Annie Get Your Gun.

Here’s what happened:

My Mom:  Did you like the show?

Grandkid:  I really did, Grammy Pammy (My mom’s name is Pam, so . . . )

My Mom:  Oh Good.  I’m glad.

Grandkid:  I didn’t think I was going to like it at all.

My Mom:  Really?  Why not?

Grandkid:  Because I didn’t think it was going to be appropriate for kids my age.

My Mom:  How come?

Grandkid:  Grammy . . . it’s called Annie, Get Your Gun.  That doesn’t sound like something a kid should see.

Amazing, right?  First, that a 2nd grader would even know what the word “appropriate” means . . . and second, that a show that you and I know definitely qualifies as a family show, could be considered something completely different because of the time we live in and because the next generation didn’t grow up on it.

I told my Mom to take her grandkid to Little Shop of Horrors next.


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The incredible shrinking cast size.

A few of you may be in a statistic induced coma by now ever since I started my numbers craze last week.

But I’ve got a-number one.  (Get it?  Ok, ok, I’ll take that off the set list for my Last Comic Standing audition.)

Today we’re talking about cast size.  Just how many pairs of chorus girl legs were kicking in the old days, and just how many are kicking now?

In this analysis, I looked at the percentage of new musicals in each decade with casts over 30 (seemed like a good line between average and BIG).

  • In the 1950s, 69% of all new musicals opening on Broadway had cast sizes greater than 30.
  • In the 1960s, 67% had cast sizes greater than 30.
  • In the 1970s, 31% (!)
  • In the 1980s, 24%
  • In the 1990s, 38%
  • In the 2000s, 27%

Over the last 30 years, we stabilized a bit after that precipitous decline in the 70s (what the heck happened there? – that’s a subject for another blog).

Costs have obviously played a big factor in this cast-size shrinkage, but I’d also argue that smaller musicals (Next to Normals) are more likely to be done in modern times than they were in the Golden Age of musicals, which might play a small part in the decline.

But for those of you out there that think that the only way to succeed is to prevent your authors from adding more people to the stage, remember this stat:

36 of the 64 Best Musical Tony Award winners have had casts greater than 30.

That’s 56%.

Writers, you can thank me for that stat later.


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Are we producing more new plays each decade or less?

Yesterday we talked about musicals, and today we’re talking plays.

What has been the trend for new plays throughout the decades?

Let’s go to the stat board and see what we’ve got.

  • In the 1940s, the average number of new plays produced each season was 49.4
  • In the 1950s, it was 41.4
  • In the 1960s, it was 35.7
  • In the 1970s, it was 25.1
  • In the 1980s, it was 17.4
  • In the 1990s, it was 10.9

Down, down, down like a submarine filled with sumo wrestlers . . . holding bricks.

But wouldn’t you know it, the average crept up a bit this last decade, just like musicals.

  • In the 2000s, the average number of new plays was 11.7

But still, a 77% decline from the 1940s?  Wowza.

Now yes, some of the decline from the days of old is from the additional theaters that were around/available . . . but 77%?

There is without a doubt a direct correlation to both the play and the musical decreases over the decades and the increase in risk as costs have escalated.

Let me be absolutely clear.  We must find ways of stabilizing this risk.  If we don’t, the disturbing trend above will continue, and as you can see, it’s very hard to reverse it. The best we can hope for over the next decade is that it doesn’t drop again.

So there’s our challenge readers.  Operation “Don’t-Let-The-Averages-Drop-This-Decade” is on.

Let’s get to it.


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Broadway Grosses End of Q3 Results: Could the cold winter be ending?

And by cold winter, I mean the cold economic winter of the last several years . . . not this cold, snowy thing that NYC seems to be stuck in this year.

Yep, the end of Quarter 3 of the Broadway season is upon us, and, well, to quote a Gershwin tune . . . things are looking up!

At the end of Q2 last November, gross was up 1.1% and attendance was up 1.8% over the prior season.

At the end of Q3, our gross is up a whopping 2.3% over the previous year (thank you holiday season and Spider-Man), and attendance stayed put with a solid 1.8% increase.

We still have a lot of shows out there, with 6.7% more playing weeks this year than last, which means that some of the smaller shows with less reach may be struggling since the grosses certainly aren’t up that much . . . but overall we’re headed in the right direction as we usher in our bountiful Spring!

We’ve got a lot of big budget musicals that are about to be born . . . and those musicals should bring dollars and bodies.  So expect the gross increase to stay above the 2% mark in Q4 and expect the attendance to break the 2% barrier for the first time in a loooong time.

And can you believe it?  We’re entering the final 13 weeks our season.  Already!  It’ll be Tony Award time before you know it!  (Staffers – we better start working on our party!)

But just like the final few months of an election, this is where the fun begins.

What is the success rate of movies-to-musicals anyway?

I’m going to admit it.

Not only do I read Michael Riedel’s twice-a-week Broadway gossip column in the NY Post, but I actually enjoy his stuff . . . even when he’s cracking on one of my shows, and he certainly has.  Deep down the guy loves theater, like all of us, and frankly, some of his columns have been a lot more enjoyable to read than a whole bunch of shows I’ve seen over the years.

In last week’s column, Michael wrote something that made me want to dig a bit deeper.  While slamming Sister Act before it has even gotten to our shores, he said . . .

This is yet another one of those screen retreads that, with few exceptions (“Hairspray,” “The Producers”), have been draining the joy out of musical comedy.

When I read it, I nodded in agreement.  I think all of us feel that movies-turned-musicals are a more miss than hit business, right?

But let’s go to the numbers.

By my count, I’ve got 21 movie-to-musicals in the last 10 years.

And I’m also counting that 7 of them made money.

That’s a 1 in 3 recoupment ratio, which easily trumps the anecdotal average of 1 in 5 that we all quote.

Not so bad, right?  All of a sudden a whole bunch of you when straight to your Netflix account to see what you could turn into a musical, didn’t you?

Well, it gets better.

When you look at the number of those shows that might not have recouped on Broadway, but ran over a year (thus increasing potential subsidiary life, etc.), the number jumps to 14 out of 21.

Now Michael wasn’t talking commercial success . . . he was talking about his own definition of joy.  And, frankly, I know exactly what he’s talking about.

But from an investor’s perspective (and an audience’s as well, since longer running shows means more folks are seeing them), there has been more joy than we may want to admit.