Blogger-producer Ken Davenport recently dropped a few compelling statistics about original-versus-adapted musicals on Broadway (OK, they’re only compelling if you haven’t been paying attention, but collectively, the numbers are still startling): Over the past 30 years, 82% of the new tuners on Broadway were adapted from movies and/or books or other material. Only 18% were original. About the same percentage — 83% — took the Best Musical Tony Award. And one-third of the original musicals (this season’s sole example, if you include original music, being If/Then, which was passed over for a Best Musical nomination) ran less than a month.
If/Then already has beaten those odds, while demonstrating that being a genuine, Broadway-minted star can still mean green at the box office. The reviews for If/Then, about a woman who experiences the divergent paths her life might have taken given certain choices, were all over the place. But I don’t recall anything but raves for Idina Menzel‘s performance in the leading role. Rent made her a star, Wicked made her a supernova, and one can surmise that all the girls who went — and went back again — to that show to relive the triumph of Elphaba are now young women who, as with the stars of an earlier time, feel they’ve grown up with their heroine. Judy Garland of course comes to mind, and Elizabeth Taylor and, to be Broadway specific, Patty Duke. I’m certain you can remind me of others.
If/Then, at the 1,311-seat Richard Rodgers Theatre, continues to take in more then $1 million per week at the box office — very close to its gross potential of $1.3 million — and has a respectable average ticket price of $106.48. A Tony win for Menzel’s performance (or for Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s score, for that matter) may not confer the prestige or long-term financial bump of a Best Musical win, but it will help keep the show in the public eye. And give producer David Stone and his partners a slightly better chance to see a return on their $10 million investment (beyond, that is, the satisfaction that in a business where both imitation and failure are the rule, they accomplished something extraordinary).
Who has three shows running on Broadway? Harvey Fierstein, of course: Newsies, Kinky Boots and Tony Best Play nominee Casa Valentina, which the Manhattan Theater Club has just extended through June 29 at its Broadway flagship, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Harvey’s influence on the season extends well beyond those three shows, as I think back to the still astonishing success over three decades ago of his Torch Song Trilogy (whose themes are powerfully present in Terrence McNally’s current Tony contender, Mothers And Sons). He’s someone else we’ve watched grow up on Broadway, with a mix of amusement (Fiddler? Really?) and admiration (Safe Sex, La Cage Aux Folles, Hairspray, A Catered Affair).
“How many other living writers have accomplished that?” asked Fred Zollo, who, with partners Colin Callender, Robert Cole and the Shuberts, enhanced the MTC show. “Kaufman and Hart? The Gershwins? Neil Simon? And Harvey lives up to everything in person.”
Casa has four Tony nominations: best featured actor and actress (Reed Birney and Mare Winningham) and costumes (Rita Ryack) in addition to best play. Zollo says there’s no future plan in place yet for Casa Valentina – an elegy for a real-life country retreat where married men escaped for boozy, theoretically unpressured weekends in drag — after the June closing. But a film, possibly for the big screen, possibly for cable, is under discussion. That would make so much sense — the play is inspired by a collection of photographs from the place that Zollo and Callender passed along to Fierstein. Anyway, see it live while you have the chance.