It has been a sad couple of weeks for fans of the Great White Way as an abundance of Broadway shows have announced that they are coming to a close. From limited runs like “Kiss Me, Kate” and “All My Sons” to longer-running modern favorites “Be More Chill” and “The Prom,” it seems like no one — or no show, rather — is safe.
With it appearing that these show closings are now a daily occurrence, many theater nerds are asking the questions: Why are Broadway shows new and old closing in droves, and what comes next?
Let’s take a look at the world of Broadway over the past three years. We theater fans were blessed with musical masterpiece “Hamilton” in 2016 and again in 2018 with the musical adaptation of “Frozen”; a play about everyone’s favorite wizard, “Harry Potter”; a show from “The Boss” himself, “Springsteen On Broadway”; and a revival of the Broadway classic, “Hello Dolly!” These Broadway heavyweights led to a box office boom.
The year 2018 was particularly good for the industry in that it was its highest grossing year because of the smaller number of closing shows and $1.8 billion earned in sales. Suddenly, 2019 rolled in and with it came seemingly promising shows like “Pretty Woman” and “The Cher Show.”
Both musicals had an element of familiarity with audiences already. “Pretty Woman” is based off the 1990 smash hit movie starring Julia Roberts with a few new tweaks, like a score from rock star Bryan Adams. “The Cher Show” is essentially a jukebox musical full of hits from pop icon Cher with a twist.
However, things didn’t go as planned for the new musicals, along with many others, as most shows leaving Broadway are packing up with less money than they put in. Of the recently announced closings (with the exception of the relatively long-running musicals “Waitress” and “Beautiful”), only three shows, all of which had limited runs, are on track to make money instead of going into the red. “The Ferryman,” “Burn This” and “What the Constitution Means To Me” are set to reacquire their losses.
Some show closings might come as a complete surprise to Broadway fans, as a handful have accomplished great feats in the community. “The Ferryman” did tremendously well at the Tonys as the show took home awards for best play, best scenic design of a play, best costume design of a play and best direction of a play. “The Cher Show” also snagged a few wins with actress Stephanie J. Block receiving the Tony for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical and best costume design of a musical. Sci-fi musical “Be More Chill” also won over the hearts of many theater-obsessed individuals, as millions of Spotify listeners streamed the cast album, which helped land the musical a spot on Broadway.
No matter how much buzz or how huge a musical or play might be, it all comes down to what sells, meaning what will land the most patrons in the theater. Like many other years on Broadway, it seems that the long time favorites are what sells. Shows like “Hamilton,” with a gross of over $90 million for this year so far, and “The Lion King,” with a gross of a little more than $60 million, continue to bring locals and tourists alike into the theater time and time again. While these timeless customer attractions are great for Broadway, their domination makes it difficult for smaller shows to get their footing and bring in theatergoers.
While it might seem like there is a gray rain cloud surrounding the theater community as a result of the multitude of show closings, there are some positive and hopeful endeavors, or rainbows, if you will, set to appear soon.
Many shows have chosen to launch tours of their productions. Fan favorite “Waitress” is set to tour around the nation in 2020, along with the Carole King musical, “Beautiful.” A North American tour of “Pretty Woman” is also in the works, as well as the play “What the Constitution Means To Me.”
While some shows have chosen to take the path of touring in order to stay alive and relevant, others have decided to relocate. “Pretty Woman” is planning on a run in the West End in 2020 and “King Kong” is hoping for a better fate as its producers have decided to try out the show in Shanghai in 2021.
Film to stage adaptations are a dime a dozen for The Great White Way, but musicals becoming movies are slightly rarer. Ryan Murphy of “Glee” and “Scream Queens” has decided to adapt the musical “The Prom” into a film featuring a celebrated cast, which is set to premiere on Netflix in fall 2020. There has also been talks of “Be More Chill” being adapted into a film.
“Be More Chill” is making what many call a smart move as the show has made itself available for licensing for amateur theater productions, like high school, college and community theater.
With several theaters becoming empty as shows are moving out, new shows, like Alanis Morissette’s jukebox musical “Jagged Little Pill,” are making their Broadway debut. “Jagged Little Pill,” which premiered in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the American Repertory Theater in 2018, will make the move to Broadway in November and will call the Broadhurst Theater home.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge just started their Broadway run of “Sea Wall / A Life” at The Hudson Theater and will perform the show until the end of September. “West Side Story” is also gearing up for a 2019-2020 run at the Broadway Theater, the current home of “King Kong.”
While some shows have been announced and will occupy spaces made empty by those leaving, there is still plenty of empty real estate available. Shows such as “Slave Play” have been rumored to open in the abandoned auditoriums.
While it is sad and downright hard to say goodbye to a handful of the shows set to leave Broadway, at the end of the day, it is a normal cycle for the industry, and there are some hopeful endeavors for Broadway on the horizon.