The hot tick­ets

Three high-pro­file open­ings add some siz­zle to the usual dog days on the Great White Way

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - BY DAVID NG >>>

Each year, the hoopla over the Tony Awards gives way to Broad­way’s most bar­ren sea­son — the dog days of sum­mer, a pe­riod that typ­i­cally sees the fewest num­ber of new shows open of any time of the year.

Just as Hol­ly­wood looks down its nose on Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, Broad­way pro­duc­ers tend to avoid mid-May through La­bor Day, a sea­son de­void of awards pres­tige and the at­ten­dant me­dia spot­light.

But this year, three high-pro­file shows have elected to brave New York’s heat and hu­mid­ity and open at a time not nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with Broad­way hits.

Will “An Act of God” and “Amaz­ing Grace” see di­vine in­ter­ven­tion at the box of­fice? Will “Hamil­ton” trump the Hamp­tons?

Pro­duc­ers said their de­ci­sions to open dur­ing the sum­mer were driven largely by prac­ti­cal considerations such as cast­ing and theater avail­abil­ity, adding that sum­mer would pro­vide cer­tain ad­van­tages over other sea­sons, such as a large num­ber of tourists ea­ger to buy theater tick­ets.

The pro­duc­ers and other in­dus­try lead­ers also dis­cussed the an­nual April crunch of Broad­way open­ings — this past April alone saw the de­but of 14 shows, about four a week —

and the wide­spread be­lief in the in­dus­try that the del­uge had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on some pro­duc­tions.

“It’s un­de­ni­able that a lot of shows open in that win­dow for all the ob­vi­ous rea­sons, like Tony con­sid­er­a­tion,” said Jef­frey Finn, a lead pro­ducer of “An Act of God,” a new com­edy star­ring Jim Par­sons of CBS’ “The Big Bang The­ory.”

“An Act of God” opened af­ter Me­mo­rial Day be­cause the cre­ative team was set on Par­sons for the lead role and the ac­tor was avail­able only in sum­mer dur­ing hia­tus from his sit­com, Finn said.

“The sum­mer can be a healthy time for a new show,” Finn added. “Es­pe­cially when you have a star like Jim. There are so many tourists look­ing for com­edy.”

In the play, by for­mer “Daily Show” writer David Javer­baum, the Almighty comes to Earth by tak­ing over Par­sons’ body and de­liv­ers com­i­cally ornery com­men­tary on con­tem­po­rary life.

The limited run at Stu­dio 54 ends Aug. 2 to ac­com­mo­date Par­sons’ re­turn to shoot­ing.

“Amaz­ing Grace,” set to bow on July 16, is a his­tor­i­cal epic that fol­lows the story of English­man John New­ton, who would write the words to the fa­mous hymn.

“We had hoped for a slot for March or April, but now I’m glad it didn’t hap­pen” said lead pro­ducer Carolyn Rossi Copeland.

Dur­ing those months, “it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to give each show its breath.”

The sum­mer tourist inf lux “will be great for our show. [New York] is just chock full of peo­ple,” she said.

The block­buster men­tal­ity that has taken over Broad­way means that there’s less turnover in thea- ters, she added. “Now, shows are des­ti­na­tions. The big hits never close.”

In the last 15 years, only two Broad­way shows with sum­mer open­ings have gone on to be­come long-run­ning hits — “Av­enue Q” and “Hair­spray.” The lat­ter opened in Au­gust 2002 and ran for more than six years.

Pro­duc­ers elected to open “Hair­spray” in the sum­mer mainly to ac­com­mo­date the sched­ule of its direc­tor, Jack O’Brien.

“I was con­cerned, ob­vi­ously. But as it turned out, [open­ing in the sum­mer] was a great boon,” pro­ducer Margo Lion said.

“We had clear sail­ing — there was noth­ing else to talk about in the press. It worked out to be ideal for us.”

She added that the April rush means that many shows “don’t have a chance to take root, and that can be

detri­men­tal.”

In re­cent sea­sons, the sum­mer has pro­duced more flops than hits.

Last year, the only Broad­way show to bow in the sum­mer was the Tu­pac Shakur-in­spired mu­si­cal “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” which had trou­ble find­ing an au­di­ence and closed af­ter a brief run.

“Spi­der-Man: Turn Off the Dark” opened in June 2011 af­ter a no­to­ri­ously trou­bled pre­view pe­riod. It ran for more than two years but hadn’t turned a profit by the time it closed in early 2014.

Last year, June through Au­gust saw Broad­way at­ten­dance of about 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple and ticket sales of $374.5 mil­lion, or about 27% of the record $1.37 bil­lion in sales for the year, ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided by the Broad­way League, a non­profit in­dus­try group.

June tends to be one of the strong­est months of the year, helped by the ex­cite­ment around the Tonys.

Sales tend to dip in July and re­bound in Au­gust be- fore drop­ping off af­ter La­bor Day.

“The best month of the year for us is prob­a­bly Au­gust,” said Michael Nau­mann, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Theatre Devel­op­ment Fund, which man­ages the TKTS ticket booths in New York. The booths are a popular des­ti­na­tion among tourists and lo­cals for dis- counted, same-day tick­ets.

He said sales drop off by about a third af­ter La­bor Day.

“Tourists tend to go to more es­tab­lished shows with brands that they know and peo­ple they know,” said Char­lotte St. Martin, who heads the Broad­way League.

Last sea­son, tourists ac­counted for about 70% of Broad­way au­di­ences.

She said the April stam­pede of Broad­way open­ings was louder than usual this past sea­son.

“We re­ally are try­ing to solve the crunch,” she said.

“Hamil­ton” is by far the most an­tic­i­pated ti­tle of the new sea­son.

When it opened to raves this year at the Public Theater in New York, many in­dus­try ob­servers as­sumed it would trans­fer to Broad­way in time for this year’s Tonys.

But in­stead, pro­duc­ers will open the show in Au­gust. Lin-Manuel Mi­randa, who wrote and stars in the his­tor­i­cal mu­si­cal, is re­port­edly re­vis­ing por­tions of the show be­fore its Broad­way bow.

The pro­duc­tion uses a mul­ti­cul­tural cast to tell the story of Alexander Hamil­ton and the Found­ing Fa­thers.

The show at­tracted nu­mer­ous VIPs dur­ing its run at the Public, in­clud­ing the Clin­tons and Michelle Obama.

Pro­duc­ers for “Hamil­ton” de­clined to com­ment.

A spokesman for the show said that its Broad­way in­vest­ment stands at about $12 mil­lion and that ad­vance sales are “ro­bust.”

The up­beat na­ture of “Hamil­ton” could prove to be a good fit for the height of Au­gust, a sea­son where au­di­ences tend to look for light­hearted en­ter­tain­ment and an es­cape from New York City’s op­pres­sive heat.

An­other po­ten­tial crowd pleaser this sum­mer is the Broad­way re­turn of Penn & Teller, whose lat­est show is open­ing in July for a limited en­gage­ment.

The sched­ul­ing was partly be­cause of the avail­abil­ity of the per­form­ers, but “we thought the height of the Broad­way tourist sea­son is an ideal time to present some­thing like this,” said Tom Vier­tel, a pro­ducer on the show.

“It’s a bet­ter idea for some shows than oth­ers. You don’t want to open ‘Death of a Sales­man’ in the sum­mer. But we’ve never been con­cerned about open­ing a great en­ter­tain­ing show in this time.”

The Public Theater

“AN ACT OF GOD,” top, is sched­uled around the cal­en­dar of its star, Jim Par­sons, top left, with Christo­pher Fitzger­ald, and “Hamil­ton,” above, is re­port­edly be­ing re­vised be­fore it takes its Broad­way bow.

Jeremy Daniel Polk & Co.

Ja­cob Cohl

“SPI­DER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK” opened in sum­mer 2011, and although it ran for more than two years, the pro­duc­tion never turned a profit.

Joan Mar­cus

“AMAZ­ING GRACE” pro­ducer Carolyn Rossi Copela says she’s now glad the show, with Josh Young and Erin Mackey, above, didn’t open amid the spring crush.

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