It’s down to the wire as we head into New York’s great weekend two-fer: the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, when American Pharaoh hopes to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, and Sunday’s Tony Awards, in which the purse can be substantially more than the $800,000 promised to the first Thoroughbred to cross the Belmont finish line. So let’s look at the contenders for Best Musical and Best Play as we head into the home stretch, which oddly, is Week 1 of the 2015-2016 Broadway season.
Among the contenders for Best Musical, only one, Something Rotten!, is anywhere near earning its gross potential at the box office. The slapstick slapdash slaphappy Elizabethan comedy sold $1.1 million worth of tickets at Jujamcyn’s St. James Theatre, a sliver over 100% of potential, and filled 91% of the theater’s 1,667 seats over eight performances. The average ticket price paid was $90.32. In second place, An American In Paris took in $1.34 million at the Nederlanders’ Palace Theatre, or 91% of its $1.47 million potential. But the 1,679-seat house was at near capacity — 99% of the seats were filled — with tickets averaging a healthy $100.67.
Fun Home was in third place, reaching$629K or 84% of it gross potential of $745 at the independently-owned Circle In The Square which was, nevertheless, over capacity at 103% of its 730 seats, with a growing average ticket price of $104.81. Bringing up the rear was The Visit, at the Shuberts’ Lyceum Theatre, hitting 19% of its $763K potential at $149K and filling 49% of the theater’s 901 seats. Average ticket price was $41.81.
The contenders for Best Play are having a somewhat tougher time of it. Out in front is the National Theatre’s transfer from London of The Curious Incident Of The Dog in The Night-Time, selling $702K worth of tickets, or 72% of potential at the Shuberts’ 1,018-seat Ethel Barrymore Theatre. 88% of the seats were full, and the average price per ticket was $97.69. Hand To God was several lengths back, reaching 61% of $665K potential or $407K at the Shuberts’ Booth Theatre, filling 81% of the theater’s 772 seats. Average price per ticket was $81.18. That other London import, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Wolf Hall Parts 1 & 2, sold $548K worth of tickets, 49% of its $1.1 million potential at the Shuberts’ 1,383-seat Winter Garden Theatre. The house was at 49% of capacity, with average ticket price of $100.83. (The fourth nominee, Disgraced, closed earlier in the season,)
You can be sure that with producers making up more than half the Tony voters, money will compete with art in consideration for their votes as they weigh what shows will benefit most from the award, especially in terms of viability on the road.
Overall, Week 1 of the season was predictably down from the holiday week that preceded it, according to figures released by the trade group Broadway League. Total gross for 33 shows was $26.9 million, off 8% from the week before. The season’s sole newcomer to date, the Jim Parsons-starring An Act Of God, opened at Studio 54 to mostly raves (though not here) and was filling about 92 percent of the theater’s 1,006 seats across eight performances. Average ticket price was $93.92.
Over on the Strand, Bradley Cooper opened in a transfer of best-play revival Tony nominee The Elephant Man, to glowing notices, especially for the also-nominated star: “Cynics will question the gym-toned, handsome Cooper’s motives for doing this. (‘Look at me playing ugly. I have no vanity!’),” wrote Ben Lawrence in the Telegraph. “But this is not a superficial performance: its strengths lie in its subtleties.” And in the Guardian, the redoubtable Michael Billington wrote, “Bradley Cooper is very good indeed as the eponymous hero of Bernard Pomerance’s play. Eschewing medical realism, Cooper simply evokes the malformations of Joseph Merrick’s body. Even his gait, with left knee permanently crooked, suggests a man whose trunk cannot sustain the weight of an outsize head. Cooper, a fine actor, also makes you believe in the romantic sensibility that existed inside Merrick’s distorted frame.”
A dash of humor spiked this hot sauce courtesy of Camilla Long, a columnist for the Sunday Times of London. She decried the “sheer, desperate, fanny-squeaking vanity of Bradley ‘Manscaping’ Cooper, a man so completely obsessed with his own twinkling boobies that he believes he can survive the hideously ugly role of John Merrick in The Elephant Man… Cooper feels ‘a deep personal connection with Merrick,’ a Victorian man so tragically deformed that one of his doctors said he was covered in ‘brown cauliflower.'”
Fanny-squeaking? Twinkling boobies? Why the heck didn’t we have them in New York? Attention Tony producers: This sounds like the theme of a Big Musical Number to me!