Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A tale of two Broadway shows

The producers of Next to Normal have announced that they've recouped their $4 million initial investment. This is quite a feat for a musical about a difficult subject - mental illness - and without any bankable TV or movie stars.

The New York Times story lists some of the reasons, including a terrific performance by Alice Ripley that was showcased on the Tony awards telecast.

But one question I wish reporter Patrick Healy had asked lead producer David Stone was what effect the show's schedule might have had on its success.

I saw Next to Normal on a Sunday night, a rarity on Broadway, especially for a new show. There's also a Monday night performance, a day when most theatres are dark. (To keep to the eight-show maximum, Next to Normal is dark on Wednesdays.)

In retrospect, this was a savvy move on the part of the producers and may well have helped them recoup. My guess is that given its youthful fan base and lack of competition, Next to Normal fared better on Sunday and Monday nights than it would have with two shows on Wednesday.

On the not so bright side, The Miracle Worker is closing Sunday after 21 previews and 38 regular performances. Despite its starry casting of Alison Pill as Annie Sullivan and Abigail Breslin as Helen Keller, the play received lackluster reviews.

Producer David Richenthal told The New York Times last year that "It's simply naive to think that in this day and age, you'll be able to sell tickets to a play solely on the potential of the production to be a great show or on the potential for an unknown actress to give a breakthrough performance."

While the two leads drew praise, most critics felt the staging didn't work at Circle in the Square and the play would have been better off at a theatre with a traditional proscenium.

I didn't see it, so I can't comment on the quality of the production but I wonder if The Miracle Worker would have been better off opening at a different time of year. It might have sold more tickets in the summer or around Christmas, when tourists flock to New York with children in tow.

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