Turkeys weren’t all that died Thanksgiving weekend. While holiday revelers gave Broadway a $1.4 million boost over the previous week, a number of shows on and off the Street were shuttering prematurely for want of ticket buyers (or, in one case, for want of cast members).
The most startling disappearing act was the abrupt Nov. 26 closing of “The Monogamist” at Playwrights Horizons – despite a last-minute effort by a pair of agents to keep the Christopher Kyle play open long enough for interested film and TV execs to see it. The comedy had earned some of the best notices of the season (except for a cool reception from the New York Times) for both the young playwright and sizzling hot director Scott Elliott, and was slated to run at least through Dec. 6.
But Playwrights lacked the all kind of promotional budget that would have been required to overcome the one indifferent notice. When a subscription drive failed to produce a hoped-for audience for the last weeks of the run, the company found it couldn’t give tickets away: The TKTS Booth in Father Duffy Square was unable to unload a single ducat, a Playwrights spokesman said last week.
Enter Sam Cohn, who represents Elliott, and Helen Merrill, who reps Kyle. The two agents offered to guarantee all but about $9,000 of the last weeks’ performances, Merrill said, but the company turned them down, closing the production instead.
“It was a generous offer,” said Tim Sanford, Playwrights’ literary manager and, as of Jan. 1, artistic director. “But the way our ticket sales were going, we still would have lost $4,000 to $5,000, and we can’t afford that. The only tickets that were selling were house seats – which meant industry people were coming. But unfortunately, virtually all of our single-ticket sales at the box office are generated by the New York Times.”
The closing left Elliott stunned and Kyle furious, though Merrill takes the longer view:
“We fought for it and lost,” said the veteran literary agent. “It’s spilled milk, but it’s over.” Merrill added that she didn’t think the early closing would adversely affect the play’s future, which will almost certainly include a film deal with Elliott attached. There was one farewell gift: The director was the subject of a Times profile; it ran the day show closed.
That weekend also saw the closing of “Patti LuPone on Broadway,” which had announced an extension of its limited run at the Walter Kerr from Nov. 18 to New Year’s Eve, and “Moscow Stations, ” the Tom Courtenay starrer at the Union Square that was slated to run through January. Both shows lasted barely a month.
Though the LuPone concert didn’t do badly during its brief tenure, the extension failed to generate any advance sales, according to production sources. It lost about half its $500,000 capitalization.
“Moscow Stations” got what should have been a money review from Times drama chief Vincent Canby, and even critics who found the material wanting tended to rave about Courtenay’s performance. Still, they weren’t enough to persuade theatergoers.
“A great review doesn’t guarantee anything anymore,” says producer Julian Schlossberg, “though given the choice, I’ll take it.” Schlossberg also said that despite the loss – he declined to say how much, but a reasonable estimate would be about $300,000 – he’d do it again.
“I was very touched by this show, and it will always be on my list of credits,” Schlossberg said. “I’m very proud of it.”
Circle Rep lacked neither good notices nor full houses for its season opener, Laurence Fishburne’s “Riff Raff.” Unfortunately, it lacked Laurence Fishburne. When one of the play’s three stars, rapper Heavy D, got sick, Fishburne – a triple threat as author, director and star – canceled nine sold-out performances, at a loss to the strapped company of about $45,000, according to managing director Milan Stitt. Fishburne’s film schedule will make it impossible to reschedule more than a couple of the dropped performances, if any. “Riff Raff” was slated to close Dec. 3.
The timing couldn’t have been worse: Circle Rep recently had managed to put a $150,000 dent in its $850,000 debt, Stitt said, and the income from “Riff Raff was helping to keep the company moving forward. Instead, they’re back to square one.
“We’re tightening our belts severely,” Stitt said, “and it’s going to be really tough, but I think we’ll get through” – meaning he hopes the shortfall won’t jeopardize the next show.
For Playwrights Horizons’ Sanford, “The Monogamist” was an eye-opener about the realities of producing today. Ticketbuyers are clearly out there, especially at this time of year. The competition for them, however, is fierce.
“We have to rise to the challenge,” Sanford said, “of finding new ways to get audiences into our theaters.”