Zoe Rogers (@Zo_Rogers12) looks at the success of shows in theatres that are and aren’t suited to them.
Last spring a new show opened on Broadway, this show was Tuck Everlasting, a new musical based on the well known American children’s book of the same name by author Natalie Babbitt. It made its world premiere at the Alliance theatre in Atlanta over January and February 2015 with a whole host of exciting names including Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Carolee Carmello, and even winning the Suzi Bass award for Outstanding Musical Production. It ran for a month alongside rave reviews and as a result, was Broadway bound just over a year later. On March 31st 2016 it began previews at the 1150 seater Broadhurst theatre. It ran for 28 previews and 39 performances, closing just 2 months later on May 29th 2016. After doing so well in Atlanta why did it close so soon on Broadway? This lead me to think about other shows which have transferred to a big Broadway or West End theatre after wildly successful smaller runs which have subsequently flopped, and more so, why this happened?
Another Broadway show which got in the same sticky situation was In Transit, running off Broadway at the 59E59 theatre in 2010, transferring to the Circle in the Square theatre in late 2016 and closing only 145 performances later, 5 days after its closure announcement, in April 2017. Both of these shows are relatively unknown, but why is this when new musicals such as Hamilton, Amelie, or Groundhog Day do so well? Could it be because the stories of Amelie and Groundhog day are already known and loved worldwide? Could it be because the creators are already well known and and have award winning previous work such as the incredible Lin Manuel Miranda? Or could it be just pure luck?
Currently on the West End and Broadway there are a whole host of long running shows such as Les Mis, Wicked, and The Lion King. There are also new musicals based on already loved books and films such as School of Rock, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Waitress. Audiences are drawn to these shows because they know the story, they’ve heard the reviews, and they want to see something they’re bound to enjoy. Does a new musical without a pre-existing fanbase even stand a chance amongst the hits?
Chances are, unless you are a huge theatre and broadway fan, you’ve never even heard of In Transit or Tuck Everlasting, and why would you have? They received minimal publicity and people chose shows they knew they were going to enjoy rather than take a risk thus creating a lack of word of mouth. How can you afford to take a risk on a new show with ticket prices easily hitting $100 for many Broadway shows? Maybe some shows are just not destined to take on the big theatres and are better suited in cosy off West End or Broadway theatres.
Avenue Q has been running at the New World Stages Off Broadway for over 6 years now. It is thriving in its small theatre rather than amongst the daunting theatres of Broadway. Is this because producers think it wouldn’t do well on Broadway currently? Unlikely, due to its unique use of puppets and its popularity within the theatre community. It’s more likely that the atmosphere of the theatre is right for the show. It allows audiences to connect with the characters and the performance more than if they were miles away in an upper circle back row seat up in the ceiling. Perhaps this is true for many shows which is why they’ll keep their runs to smaller theatres, as a result bringing fewer new musicals to the wider public.
To accommodate for this, new theatres which are sometimes purpose built are appearing (and disappearing) to house shows in a space that fits their dynamic. Take In The Heights and The Railway Children at the King’s Cross Theatre. Built with a train track so that a train could be brought on and off during The Railway Children, and giving a close and personal atmosphere for the community feel of In the Heights, these shows would have lost their spirit and not worked so well in a large theatre on the West End. The Regent’s Park Open Air theatre created for the performance of outdoor shows in the warmer months, bringing a different factor to the theatre, including the unpredictability of the British Weather. Both In The Heights and Jesus Christ Superstar at the Regent’s Park theatre won awards at the Olivier awards. But would this have happened if they were in a different theatre?
Is this the way theatre should be going? Instead of creating a show to work in a large theatre and have it fail as a result of the space not suiting it, should we be creating a space to suit new shows? It would definitely bring new life to the theatre world and introduce a new way of looking at shows, but in the long run is it feasible? Will tourists even know they’re there or will they stick to the big shows? I think the branching out of theatre into different spaces is a welcome one for frequent theatre goers, and the creation of new musicals is exciting and necessary. I believe that one day the smaller, more intimate spaces will be just as popular as the big theatres on the West End and Broadway amongst the general public, enhancing the way theatre is viewed as a form.