#MIKECHECK | FAMILIARITY = FINANCES
By Mike Hallinan | Arts & Entertainment Columnist
A common qualm I hear in regards to Broadway, especially in regards to new musicals, is that there seems to be a lack of original content on Broadway. Taking a look at the landscape that made up Broadway prior to the shutdown due to COVID-19, it's pretty hard to argue that. Most shows were adaptations of books (The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), movies (Mrs Doubtfire, Moulin Rouge, The Lion King), or even popular figures (Hamilton, Ain't Too Proud..., Diana). For every Next to Normal, there seems to be five new shows per season that have its roots grounded in adaptation. The reason for this is quite simple: the price of putting on a Broadway show has become astronomically high.
It is hard to deny that Broadway is the grandest stage in the theater world. Once a show has played Broadway, it can play anywhere. I once asked a Tony winning Broadway producer what was the difference between putting on a show on Broadway as opposed to various markets around the world. The producer quickly replied that the cost of putting a show up on Broadway is much higher than anywhere else in the world. It’s easy to see why. Large scale musicals, such as the aforementioned Moulin Rouge or Wicked, have a production cost that usually runs in the tens of millions of dollars. In order to make that money back, the show is going to require a high capacity for a period of months. This is not an easy feat to accomplish. On Broadway, you have usually over thirty shows as well as other attractions in New York City that are competing for the attention of tourists. As a result, the rate of a show recouping its investment during its initial Broadway run is less than half. Producers know that they face an uphill battle so, in most cases, they decide to invest in properties that have a familiarity that they can sell prospective patrons on.
Going back to Next to Normal, imagine what your sales pitch for seeing the show would be for a patron just as the show was starting performances. Perhaps it would be that it’s a musical about a suburban family that are facing issues that resonate in today’s society. It’s an intriguing plot, but may lead to more questions as the patron needs more justification to spend money toward that show. Now, let’s look at a musical like Jagged Little Pill that deals with some similar issues. Jagged Little Pill, however, has an advantage as there is the name recognition of the title as well as the association of Alannis Morrisette, who also has a built-in fan base before Jagged Little Pill’s Broadway run. It is, therefore, much easier to sell a patron on Jagged Little Pill as opposed to Next to Normal. We can therefore reach the conclusion that shows with that familiarity stand a better chance of making the producer back their money, and then some more, in a shorter amount of time.
It is difficult to forecast the landscape of Broadway when it hopefully resumes in the next year, but it is safe to assume that not much will change in regards to the types of shows that are on the boards as producers woo patrons back into the theaters. This does not mean, however, that there is no future for the original musical on Broadway. If history has shown us anything, it is that the formula for what makes a surefire Broadway hit constantly evolves. In the end, if the price is right, there will be original content returning to Broadway. Until next time, standby and stand together.
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