Mirvish cold on musical's long-run prospects

TORONTO — “Springtime for Hitler” won’t make it through autumn in Toronto.

Producer David Mirvish shocked the city Wednesday by announcing he was closing the Canadian production of “The Producers” on Sept. 5, after only 331 performances.

Ever since “The Phantom of the Opera” carved out a 10-year run (1989-99), Toronto has grown used to long-running musicals. “Miss Saigon” and “Crazy for You” broke the two-year mark; “The Lion King” almost made it to four; “Mamma Mia!” just began its fifth year.

With all the advance hype from Broadway and the road, it was expected “The Producers” would enjoy a healthy run.

But it opened at the Canon Theater on Dec. 11 to mixed reviews and never enjoyed the SRO buzz necessary to launch a long-run show.

By April, tuner often was averaging 75% capacity, and after looking at the summer’s advance sales, Mirvish and the New York producers jointly decided to pull the plug.

Mirvish insisted Wednesday that if the show plays to near-capacity during its final three months, it still could recoup its initial investment.

He said, “I want what’s best for the show. If we end a little early, but we play to full houses, that’s better for everyone.”

The question is whether this early curtain for “Producers” is due to the show itself, remaining anxiety over last year’s severe acute respiratory syndrome crisis or a glut of product on the market.

In addition to “Producers,” the Mirvishes are running “Mamma Mia!” and “Hairspray.” Other commercial management companies have productions of “Urinetown” and “Cookin’ at the Cookery” running and are cautiously optimistic about their chances.

Add to this the 26 productions available at the Stratford and Shaw festivals, only a few hours’ drive from the city, and Mirvish’s question, “How big is the audience?,” becomes a valid one.

When asked how their advance sales are stacking up against recent years, the Shaw and Stratford fests report a welcome increase over last years SARS-fueled disaster, but admit they are not yet back to the levels of earlier years.

“Things haven’t been the same since 9/11,” said Odette Yazbeck, director of publicity at the Shaw Festival.

Stratford Festival publicist Kelley Teahen said sales were happening “closer to the date, due to uncertainty about the world situation.”

In Mirvish’s words, “We’ll know in the fall if this is something systemic, or if we’ve just put too many seats in the marketplace.”

But by then, Max and Leo will have walked into the sunset for the last time.

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