An oft-asked question — do reviewers matter anymore? — was the subject of lunchtime chatter today in theater circles, after the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Love Never Dies was pummeled by The New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley. Some wondered if the blows were enough to impact plans for a November Broadway bow of the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, which got mixed reviews in London papers. While Lloyd Webber comes closest to critic proof on Broadway, even his name isn’t always enough in this fragile Broadway climate. He’s hedging his bets, at least when it comes to a revival of the Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical Evita that will come to Broadway in 2011-2012. I’ve heard that Ricky Martin has committed for a year-long run as Che Guevara. He’s no stunt casting–Martin has stage experience that includes Les Miserables–but he’s protection for backers who want Elena Rogers to play Eva Peron. She doesn’t have the name recognition here and Evita isn’t as branded as Phantom of the Opera is.
Several said the Love Never Dies review might be enough to sink many shows, especially those that don’t have big stars. Lloyd Webber and his Phantom brand are the draws–not Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, who play the London leads. The shows doing best right now are the ones with stars. Both the Daniel Craig-Hugh Jackman play A Steady Rain and the Liev Schreiber-Scarlett Johansson play A View from the Bridge announced they’ve recouped, while many other shows have tanked. Upcoming hot tickets like Promises, Promises has Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, and Fences has Denzel Washington, the latter of whom headlined a profitable Broadway run of Julius Caesar in 2005.
“Before the internet, when [The New York] Times panned an out of town show like it did Love Never Dies, that was usually a death sentence for a Broadway move, while a rave was the impetus for raising money for a Broadway move,” one vet producer told me. “You read about critics having less and less power and clout because of the internet. Love Never Dies is the big test case.”
Another test comes this evening, when Scottsboro Boys opens off-Broadway. It is the final collaboration between John Kander and Fred Ebb, who were part way through the musical when Ebb died, and Kander finished writing both the music and the lyrics. Said one producer: “If it gets creamed, who’ll put up the money to bring it to Broadway?”