With the opening this week of “Moon Over Buffalo” and “Company, ” Broadway launches its most rigorous fall season in memory. While last year the Street was all but dead until the spring pre-Tony rally, there are 14 Broadway openings slated in October and November.
Moreover, theatergoers appear to be responding hungrily to the new offerings: Single ticket and group sales are ringing up strong advances as ticket buyers – lured by the return of divas long absent from the Broadway stage, or by good word of mouth, or by some combination of the two – suddenly are investing in Broadway futures. And there’s not a Euro musical in sight.
This week’s two entries are good examples: “Buffalo, ” which reunites Broadway and Carol Burnett for the first time since 1964, comes out of the starting gate with just under $2 million in advance sales. That figure could easily be eaten up by the large size of the house; the Martin Beck has more than 1,600 seats, a big challenge for any play.
On the other hand, with its revival of the 1970 Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical “Company” opening at one of Broadway’s smallest venues, the nonprofit Roundabout Theater Company has all but filled every seat of its run (primarily from a huge subscriber base); look for a commercial transfer if the reviews and word of mouth echo the pre-opening anticipation.
Farthest out in front so far is “Victor/Victoria, ” which had an advance sale of $15.5 million as of Sept. 29. Clearly, the dual draws of Julie Andrews, one of Broadway’s most beloved stars, and the popular 1982 movie on which the show is based – not to mention the current vogue for cross-dressing stars – have spurred the season’s biggest advance sales. After a grueling tryout tour, “Victor/Victoria” is slated to begin previews Oct. 3 at the Marquis, with its official opening Oct. 25.
The distant but still healthy second is the Tommy Tune vehicle “Busker Alley, ” coming in after an equally strenuous tryout tour; though it is not slated to begin previews until Oct. 19 for a Nov. 16 opening at the St. James, “Busker” so far has racked up $5 million in advance sales, though the figures for both shows include a large portion of group reservations, which can evaporate if the reviews aren’t good.
“Victor/Victoria, ” “Busker Alley” and “Hello, Dolly!” are coming in on extraordinary waves of publicity, perhaps none more so than the last. Since beginning her “Dolly” tour last fall, Carol Channing has won rave upon rave 30 years after winning the Tony for creating the role of Dolly Levi in the Jerry Herman musical. “Dolly” is still at the Kennedy Center in Washington, but it has rung up $2 million-plus in advance sales, for previews beginning Oct. 11 at the Lunt- Fontanne and an opening Oct. 19; that figure accounts only for sales through Dec. 17, though the show has already extended its “limited” run at least through early January.
Sales for Patti LuPone’s limited concert run at the Walter Kerr, slated to run Oct. 5-Nov. 18, were topping the half-million-dollar mark as of Sept. 29.
Zoe Caldwell, playing uberdiva Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class, ” has clearly proved a boon for the box office: The Broadway Alliance production, slated to begin previews Oct. 25 at the John Golden and open Nov. 5, has an advance of $1 million, about half in group sales – an exceptional figure given the lower top ticket price for Alliance productions.
Also exceptional for a play is the B.O. response to “The Tempest.” The Broadway transfer of director George C. Wolfe’s summer production for the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte in Central Park has generated great reviews and plenty of interest, particularly among fans of Patrick Stewart, who plays Prospero.
“The Tempest” had to be completely rebuilt after its run at the Delacorte, and is coming into the Broadhurst with a whopping $2 million pricetag, with previews beginning Oct. 10 and an opening Nov. 1. “The Tempest” had an advance of just over $1.5 million as of Sept. 29 – all of it in single-ticket sales, as opposed to groups. That means real cash.
Though figures were not available for the other shows that will be opening, the buzz on several has been equally optimistic, notably for Circle in the Square’s Tennessee Williams duo, “Garden District, ” featuring Elizabeth Ashley re-creating the role in “Suddenly Last Summer” so memorably essayed by Katharine Hepburn in the 1959 Joseph Mankiewicz film.
Advance word on Diane Shaffer’s “Sacrilege, ” starring Ellen Burstyn, John Forsythe and Giancarlo Esposito, is also good. Other entries include the New York premiere of David Hare’s acclaimed “Racing Demon” at the Vivian Beaumont, the musical revue “Swinging on a Star” at the Music Box, Tony Randall in “School for Scandal” at the Lyceum and the reprise of David Shiner, Bill Irwin and the Red Clay Ramblers in “Fool Moon” at the Ambassador.
If those expectations prove warranted, the coming weeks will see a double rebirth – not only of Circle in the Square, but of that endangered species, the fall Broadway opening, as well. It might as well be spring.