NEW YORK — Has Broadway once again found itself in a feast-or-famine situation?
Back in 1991, four shows — “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon” and “The Phantom of the Opera” — brought in 40% of all receipts for the 21 shows on the boards that spring.
Fall 2001 isn’t looking much different. As seven endangered productions are weaned off their labor concessions on Oct. 21, a mere five shows this week — “Aida,” “42nd Street,” “The Lion King,” “The Producers” and the newly ensconced “Mamma Mia!,” which opens Oct. 18 — look to bring in slightly more than 40% of all receipts for 21 productions, exactly the same number of shows running a decade ago.
While Broadway’s neediest contemplate survival without labor concessions and the grim prospect of January and February’s winter-white sales, the new Abba tuner comes to town with reported daily wraps of between $50,000 and $75,000 and an advance in the neighborhood of $27 million, the second-highest in Broadway history.
In fact, in real dollars, “Mamma’s” advance may be a record. Ten years ago, “Miss Saigon” general manager Alan Wasser acknowledged that while record-holder “Miss Saigon’s” advance was up to $39 million, less than $29 million was in the bank: Theater parties and benefits required only a one-third deposit booking, with full payment not due until eight weeks before the performance.
The “Mamma Mia!” numbers can’t be compared because producers Judy Craymer, Richard East and Bjorn Elvaeus have remained mum on the money, with no official word forthcoming.
The fact is that after months of ballyhooing its record-breaking North American tour, the press bulletins and e-mails from the show’s press office, Boneau/Bryan-Brown, ended abruptly Sept. 11. Chalk it up to discretion as the rest of Broadway went into B.O. withdrawal.
But the show’s success in London and on the road in the U.S. has proved stratospheric.
Capitalized at $4.8 million, the touring production has netted $6.4 million in Boston alone after eight weeks. Previously, it amassed $11.7 million for its 13-week run in Chicago, $12.9 million for 14 weeks in San Francisco and $11 million for 12 weeks in Los Angeles. “Cats” and “Phantom” sat down longer in those markets, but the inflation-adjusted numbers are remarkable considering the weaker state of the road today.
In Toronto, “Mamma Mia!” kicked off a scheduled six-month run in May 2000 but never left town. It has accumulated $39 million so far. A third company opens in Providence, R.I., in January.
Back in London, where the tuner opened in spring 1999, it paid back its similar $4.7 million investment in just 27 weeks, and the advance remains a plush $9 million.
Without an original score, and with a national tour already under way, the show isn’t likely to receive the press attention that “The Producers” did — particularly given recent events. And this week’s opening-night party at the intimate Bryant Park Grill promises less glitz than Mel Brooks’ blowout last spring at the cavernous Roseland.
But “Mamma Mia!” is the rare Broadway show that doesn’t appear to need the kind of publicity a splashy Broadway opening brings. Right now, Broadway needs “Mamma Mia!” more than “Mamma Mia!” needs Broadway.