Tony Watch: Nominations’ Box Office Blessings, ‘Rocky’ Vs. ‘Hedwig’, Alex Timbers

HereLiesLoveThis is how the numbers broke down for the Tony contenders in the week following the nominations announcement.

Best play: Act One, up $25,000 to $399,000, 37% of its potential and playing to two-thirds-full houses. All The Way, up $20,000 to $1.14 million, 74% of potential and 81% filled houses. Casa Valentina, up $65,000 to $276,000, just under half its gross potential but 86% full houses. Mothers And Sons, down $20,000 to $173,000, 22% of gross potential and struggling to fill 43% of the seats. Outside Mullingar (closed earlier after a limited run).

Related: Broadway Box Office Drops $2.5M In Week After Tony Noms

Best Musical: After Midnight, up $35,000 to $523,000, 52% of potential and 78% filled houses. Aladdin, down $17,500 to $1.177 million, 91% of potential, full houses. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, up $20,000 to $1.036 million, 94% of capacity and selling out. A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder, up $109,500 (the biggest uptick of any nominated non-revival) to $580,300, 65% of its gross potential and 93% of the seats filled.

Among the non-nominated new shows, Bullets Over Broadway was down slightly, If/Then took a bigger hit with a $76,000 drop, about the same for Rocky. The Bridges Of Madison County continued to struggle, down $65,000 and playing to 58% of capacity. The Realistic Joneses was holding on to nearly 90% houses and 89.4% of gross potential, suggesting that theatergoers aren’t hating it nearly as much as tongue-waggers would have it. Violet, which I continue to believe is the best new show on Broadway even though it’s classified as a revival, is still struggling to find an audience, off $57,600 to $303,000, slightly under 40% of its gross potential.

So if you’re looking for excitement, wait a few weeks til the races heat up, or turn away from the numbers for a minute to the best one-two punch in town: Rocky vs. Hedwig. The last 20 minutes of Hedwig And The Angry Inch and Rocky have this in common: They’re as loud, raw and cathartic as anything I’ve ever seen on Broadway. I’m referring, of course, to the audience.

Rocky-musical-to-open-on-Broadway-in-FebruaryRocky, as you surely have heard, ends with a big, old-fashioned coup de theatre right up there with the falling chandelier of The Phantom Of The Opera, the rearing helicopter of Miss Saigon and the barricade scenes of Les Miserables. For Rocky’s bout with Apollo Creed, folks in the front row are dispatched to bleachers at the back of the stage and the boxing ring is flown out into the orchestra, where Tony-nominated choreographers Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine recreate 15 rounds of brutal pummeling. The ending is no surprise and still the audience on the night I saw it recently let out an exhausted roar of approval and release as the Italian Stallion cried out for his gal Adrian.

Neil Patrick Harris seems, by the end of Hedwig, to Hedwig & the Angry Inch Belasco Theatrehave gone 15 rounds as well, in his transformation from girlish boy to still-slightly-hung female rock star. Hedwig also calls for his better half, Yitzhak, who returns as the glammed-up actress Lena Hall — and their crowd too goes wild. The night I saw Hedwig I wasn’t among the critics and claques we press people usually see shows with, and as I looked around, I felt my own preconceptions fall away as I searched the faces in the audience. Transgressive as this punky, gleefully trashy show is in its affect, the audience was anything but. These people were every bit as in to the triumph, however modest, of its too-dumb-to-be-defeated antihero as the crowd screaming at Rocky.

Rocky will surely benefit from exposure on the Tony telecast and may prove the naysayers wrong by showing strong through the summer tourist season. I doubt it will ever make make back its capitalization, though, already a hit in Germany, it should have a good post-Broadway afterlife. Sure, Harris is a star. But as we’ve seen many times in recent seasons, stars don’t guarantee success. Audiences have to want to see what’s on offer. In Rocky and Hedwig, the outcomes are known — the former is a classic film, the latter a cult hit as both musical and movie. Something more ineffable is moving the audiences.

AlexTimbersSpeaking of which, I spent a few minutes today with Rocky director Alex Timbers. He was also passed over for a Tony nomination, though he’s been winning his share of kudos for his staging of Here Lies Love, the amazing musical about the unrealistic Marcoses, with music by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, which has resumed performances at the Public.

Timbers exploded on the scene with Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a travesty (that’s a compliment) of an environmental show at the Public that had a brief, misguided Broadway foray. He’s the co-founder with two friends from Yale of an experimental group, Les Freres Corbusier. If he has a signature, it’s that his shows are visual and visceral to the point of shock.

“I guess I need to cast the audience in a role, whether it’s cheering on Rocky or dancing with the Marcoses,” he said. He often takes his cues from movies — “Rocky has the color palette of a David Fincher film,” he noted — music videos, and from an extensive file of images to which he’s constantly adding.

His next show, being developed with Kristen and Robert Lopez, is called Up Here. He describes it as “a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-back-girl romance with an overlay of Cirque” that will open next year at the La Jolla Playhouse. In the meantime, he’s preparing for the London opening of Here Lies Love which will in October will inaugurate the renovated space that used to be the National’s Cottesloe Theatre.

As for the learning experience of Rocky, perhaps opening it in Germany provided the most important lesson of all.

“Doing it in German,” he said, “made me be absolutely sure that all my directorial choices were clear.”

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