Linder’s Lessons: Broadway breakups

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Photo courtesy of Arrington Linder

“I believe that in a great city, or even in a small or a village, a great theatre is the outward and visible sign of an inward and probable culture,” – Laurence Olivier

Arrington Linder, Editor-in-Chief

Broadway has become a staple in New York: singing, dancing, acting, something for everyone to enjoy. While Broadway might look easy to the audience, extensive amounts of work goes into creating a play or musical, later transferring it to the Broadway stage. Many shows take years to complete, sometimes even decades. In order to stay open, shows must bring in large amounts of revenue to cover salaries, set costs, rent, promotional material and more. If shows are unable to produce a set amount of money each week, they are forced to close. However, it is rare that successful shows are forced to close.

Tim Burton’s hit 1988 film, Beetlejuice, was adapted into a musical by Scott Brown, Anthony King and Eddie Perfect. While opening to mixed reviews, the musical overcame their obstacles and has broken numerous box office records. In just one week, the musical grossed approximately $1,589,838.90, breaking the Winter Garden Theatre box office record, previously held by School of Rock in 2015, grossing $1,506,236.20. To many theatre-goers, it seemed like Beetlejuice would stay open for the months, hopefully years, to come. However, due to the revival of The Music Man opening in October, Beetlejuice has been evicted from of the Winter Garden Theatre, effective on June 6.

The Shubert Organization owns approximately half of the Broadway theatres, meaning they have the power to evict any of the shows housed in their theatres. However, when shows close, it is typically because audiences are uninterested, causing the show to lose money. Very rarely does a show announce its closing right after it has broken a record. After the announcement, The Music Man and the Shubert Organization received backlash from Beetlejuice fans, saying how it is unfair that such a new and successful show is closing. Some Beetlejuice cast members have posted on their Instagram accounts, asking fans to not be rude to the cast of The Music Man, as it is not their fault that the show is closing.

Last season was the highest-grossing and had the highest attended year for Broadway, yet at least a dozen shows closed. Why do shows continue to close, despite Broadway drawing in large sums of money? Fan-favorite, The Prom, received seven Tony nominations, including Best Musical, but closed after less than a year of being open. Hadestown, however, swept last year’s Tony’s, winning a total of eight awards. This musical continues to stay open after many positive reviews. The difference between the new musicals that survived last season’s purge and the ones that fell flat? The music styles.

Shows such as The Prom, Pretty Woman and Be More Chill all have a pop/contemporary sound, whereas Hadestown ranges from blues, to ragtime, to jazz. While the music style of the show does not determine its fate, based off of current successful shows, one can assume that theatre fans prefer musicals with original storylines and a score with various sounds.

Creating a Broadway show, especially from scratch, takes time, effort and money. Certain people invest in new shows, hoping to make their money back, plus more. However, when shows close before their time, investors most likely will not make their money return on investment (ROI) with a profit. After closing, some shows go on tour or license their content, meaning the musical or play is available for others to perform. No show deserves to close, regardless of whether you are a fan of the show or not. Yes, some shows might announce their closing and some fans might say, “Oh that makes sense,” but people wrote the book for the show, they composed a score, they built a set, they invested money to open the show on Broadway. No one merits to having their work close on Broadway, for no one to admire anymore. If a cast album is recorded people can continue to listen to the closed and cancelled Broadway show, people are unable to view the show live, to see the show the way that the creators intended.

Closing Broadway productions is just a stage in the lifecycle of the show. In order to make room for new shows, other shows need to close. The new plays and musicals opening could either be the next big thing, or close on opening night. The unfortunate solution to this problem? Nothing. Phantom of the Opera is the longest running Broadway musical, having just celebrated their 32 anniversary. Phantom of the Opera has a timeless score and plot, and is able to withstand the test of time. Some of the musicals that have closed recently are only relevant for a few years before becoming outdated. In order to keep productions open for years to come, seats need to constantly be filled and fans who are unable to either purchase tickets or fly to New York can support their favorite shows by streaming the cast recordings and purchasing show merchandise.

Theatre is a glorious art form, but is slowly dying. To keep this art form alive, awareness needs to be raised about how much effort the cast members, crew, writers and more put into these shows, eight times a week for us to appreciate. To some people, seeing a Broadway show is a normal Saturday night but for others, it is a once in a lifetime experience. One that, if neglected, can be a forgotten art form.