‘Titanic’ tops flotilla of tuners

NEW YORK — At the very least, the 51st annual Tony Awards raised the “Titanic’s” hopes. The much-maligned tuner’s five-award sweep will set the $10 million production on a smoother course than had been forecast, leaving other shows to drink its wake.

“Dream,” for example, is struggling to avoid a financial nightmare. Although the show’s seven producers, headed by Louise Westergaard and Mark Schwartz, say they’ll press on despite a Tony brush-off, the $5.5 million Johnny Mercer revue has been grossing far short (usually more than $100,000) of its estimated $325,000 weekly break-even.

For the full week after the awards, many of the Tony winners showed gains — “Titanic,” for example was up 40%, a gain of $170,000, from the previous sesh, and “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” was ahead 47%, up $56,000. But the crucial bellwether for a show’s potential are the box office wraps in the few days following the awards.

For example, an appearance on the PBS portion of the June 1 Tony broadcast apparently did little to help “Dream”: During the post-Tony week, daily B.O. wraps hovered in the meager $40,000 neighborhood.

At this point, only producer determination and a $400,000 advance are keeping “Dream” alive.

Wraps apparently were not much better for “Steel Pier,” the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical. The $7.5 million production faces a tough summer and will be considered a survivor if it lasts until Labor Day. (Producers would not confirm wraps for the show, which left the Tony contest without a single win of 11 nominations.)

“The Life,” a $6 million production, shows more promise than “Pier.” With two Tony wins (featured actor and actress), “Life” wrapped nearly $90,000 on the day after the Sunday-night broadcast, nearly doubling its take of the previous Monday and a good indication that the show came off well in its televised musical number. “The Life,” which was considered an early front-runner for the best musical Tony, has a fighting chance for a decent Broadway run, although recoupment at this point is uncertain.

“Jekyll & Hyde,” losing in all four of its Tony categories — and lacking even a nomination for best musical — continues to pull decent grosses and might well have found an audience without the help of critics or awards.

While not quite boffo, weekly grosses for the $6.2 million production passed the $400,000 mark (of a potential $550,486) by the end of the season — making producer Scott Zeiger’s claims of outlasting the Tony nominees more than a threat, if something less than a promise.

‘Candide’s’ alert

The costume award for “Candide” will have no impact on the Livent revival’s fortunes, or lack thereof. The $4.25 million production — directed by Harold Prince, dismissed by most critics and typically falling considerably short of its gross potential — likely will be kept on stage by Livent for its planned six-month run (ending October), and just as likely won’t make the Toronto company a cent.

“Chicago,” of course, was the season’s bona fide musical smash, recouping its $3 million capitalization in March, four months after producers Barry and Fran Weissler moved an enhanced version of the Encores! concert staging to Broadway.

Six Tonys, including best musical revival, and a terrific performance on the Tony broadcast sent wraps soaring to an $840,000 total for the three days after the awards ceremony — roughly tripling the show’s already healthy norm. Wraps for the touring production in Washington, D.C., also tripled to about $300,000 for the three days after the Tonys.

‘Titanic’-sized risk

But the stakes are highest for “Titanic” and its dozen or so investors (producers Richard Pechter, Dodger Endemol Theatricals and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts put up 75% of the money), and not just because the Peter Stone-Maury Yeston musical was the season’s most expensive at $10 million.

Dismissed, if not deep-sixed, by most critics after enduring a preview period consisting of equal parts harpoon and lampoon, “Titanic” sailed away with five important Tony wins, including best musical, score and book. The show, which had been building support even before the Tonys, could nonetheless become an industry bellwether for the enduring box office power of that award.

Or not. Before its Tonys, “Titanic,” even with steadily improving grosses, only intermittently surpassed its $435,000 break-even. While its advance has grown beyond $3 million, that pales next to “Chicago’s” $11.5 million.

The post-Tony “Titanic” wraps were good — $355,000 the day after the awards — yet still short even of the $400,000 wrap that “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” an eventual flop, took in 1993 after winning its Tony. And “Kiss” was dwarfed that year by “Tommy,” which wrapped nearly $550,000 the day after losing the best musical Tony.

Still, no one can diminish “Titanic’s” accomplishments in surviving the initial prognosis. “We have managed to pass the early test,” said Dodger Endemol partner Michael David, “and what’s wonderful about this moment is that now we turn the show over, wholeheartedly, to the real test. And that’s the audience.”

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