The Broadway season will end next week with some good news: The total box office will be up about 11% and $100 million over last season, closing at around $1.27 billion. Attendance will be up, but not as much — about 5%, to 12.2 million customers. Those numbers won’t mask some of the phenomenal losses, led, of course, by the January closing of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, to the tune of $70 million or $80 million or $85 million, depending on who you believe and the current status of various lawsuits. But there were smaller, sadder flops, notably the Susan Stroman-led Big Fish, which left most critics (not me) cold and, despite a gorgeous production and a terrific lead performance by Norbert Leo Butz, closed at a total loss.
And of course there was the closing this past Sunday of Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman’s adaptation of The Bridges Of Madison County, at a loss of $8 million. The question is, will the failure of Bridges affect the future of Brown’s other new show, Honeymoon In Vegas, co-written with that 1992 movie’s screenwriter Andrew Bergman.
Honeymoon — complete with a phalanx of Elvis impersonators, a charming performance by Tony Danza in the key of Sinatra and a career-restoring lead performance by Rob McClure — tried out last fall at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse. Unlike the Williamstown Theatre Festival, which asked most critics not to come, the Paper Mill wanted the reviews. After all, the critics had shlepped out to Millburn, NJ for the tryout of Disney’s Newsies, turning what was supposed to be the dry run for a tour into a Broadway-bound hit.
I reviewed both Bridges and Vegas. The producers of Bridges might have been better served by more, not fewer, reviews; though I admired Brown’s score, the book was in trouble and the show was only sporadically involving, problems it never overcame. Like most of my colleagues, I thought Honeymoon In Vegas had hit written all over it: “Honeymoon in Vegas doesn’t always know whether it’s comedy or parody,” I concluded in my review, “But Gary Griffin’s fleet staging, Denis Jones’s stylish dances and a fabulous big band conducted by Tom Murray come alive in Anna Louizos’s typically cheeky settings and Brian Hemesath’s spot-on costumes. Honeymoon is a winner.”
And yet Bridges came in, while Honeymoon cooled its heels. Lead producer Roy Gabay said at the time that there was no theater available, though I now hear the real issue is that the theater owners weren’t convinced — reviews to the contrary notwithstanding — it would be a hit.
The surprise success of After Midnight suggests there’s a grown-up Broadway audience for sophisticated nostalgia — Honeymoon recalls the Rat Pack era of booze, busts and braggadocio, and Jason Robert Brown in a sunny mood is a whole lot more fun than when he’s molto serioso. Despite the fact that this composer/lyricist is working at the top of his game, Broadway success has eluded him. I hope Honeymoon In Vegas comes along soon to break the cycle.
Post-script: Earlier today I said Richards was having a terrible spring because of the failure of Bridges and the imminent closing of The Realistic Joneses. OK, not fair: Richards’ other Broadway shows this season include All The Way, The Glass Menagerie and Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill – an enviable portfolio.