Monday, April 6, 2009

Redefining Success: How Long Does a Show Need to Be Running?

This is one from October 2007, and while the shows are a little outdated, the ideas are not. Take out A Chorus Line and throw in Hairspray, Spamalot, or Spring Awakening.

I love the exceptions we set up. No one wants this onslaught of jukebox musicals to continue. Except the music of ________________ would make a great show. Disney needs to stop doing Broadway! Except for the movie ________________ which really would make for a great Broadway musical. And those long-running shows—enough already! Except ________________ is closing too soon!

This was particularly prominent when Beauty and the Beast was closing. Despite all the online objections to Beauty and the Beast being a carbon copy cartoon on stage, on its lack of integrity as a Broadway show, and so on, the moment Disney posted the closing notice, it seems like everyone was saying how Beauty and the Beast should be running longer, that it was sad to see it go so soon.

Broadway fanatics respond to shows very personally. It is as if the alchemy of costumes, book, music, choreography, lighting, sets, and marquee form a human being, we get so attached. Our favorite performers may no longer even be in the show, but we mourn over lost experiences that can never be recreated, the new audiences that will never get to laugh at that joke or be awed by that choreography.

The result is that we want theatres to open up for great new shows without having to lose their previous occupants. Recently there has been much online speculation about the impending closing of The Drowsy Chaperone and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee based on weekly grosses (neither of which has announced closing) plus much conjecture about Legally Blonde. Each of these shows have their own fan bases, so . . . no one can bare to see ________________ close so early!

In the Golden Era, shows lasted a couple seasons if they were a big hit—My Fair Lady lasted six and that was a mega-hit—then closed. Today, though, we have a new standard, the enormous number of performances racked up by Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and Miss Saigon. If you compare, say, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to Miss Saigon, okay, its run will be short then.

But even though we have this new definition of a long-running show, the formula for determining success still remains. If a Broadway musical stays open long enough to re-coup its initial investment, then that’s time for celebration. If, like the two current shows named above, they not only re-coup their investments but also brings in some profit . . . then that’s all the success anyone can require of a show. If a show closes breaking even or earning a profit, then its closing is a time for hearty celebration, for not only has it entertained many people but its closing is now nurturing a new musical production which can open in that newly vacant theatre.

So, let’s keep mourning the passing of our favorite shows, but let’s also keep it all in perspective. If A Chorus Line were to close tomorrow (the show’s numbers seem healthy, so it is very doubtful it’ll be closing soon), the show has already turned a profit, as has The Lion King, Wicked, Jersey Boys, and a bunch of other long-running shows.

Who could ask for anything more?

the Broadway Mouth
October 18, 2007

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