Shows wilting in heat

Trio of acclaimed revivals flop as B.O. recedes

NEW YORK — West End producers struggling through a particularly grim summer can’t expect to get too much sympathy from New York producers right now: Gotham legit isn’t having a much better time of it this season.

As in London, some of the best-reviewed shows are faring worst.

Late last month, the acclaimed Off Broadway revival of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” abruptly sent out a release announcing it would close that very night — a virtually unheard-of phenomenon. Shows tend to run out at least the week.

The production had extended through the summer at the Public, but ticket buyers dried up quickly, despite across-the-board raves — better reviews than the AIDS drama received for its preem production in 1985.

This season’s top Tony winner, the Roundabout Theater Co. revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins,” also sent out an unusual SOS press release announcing its imminent demise. On the strength of stellar reviews, five Tony Awards and largely full houses fueled by subscribers, the show had extended through August. But a June 28 press release revealed the show would close July 18 unless something drastic occurred at the B.O. It all but waved a flag saying, “Good seats available, really!”

To no avail: The show confirmed its closing date a week later.

Tough subject matter may be part of the problem. Neither “Normal Heart” nor “Assassins” is typical tourist fare, and tourists tend to make up a large part of summer theatergoing auds as New Yorkers head out of town on weekends. Another higher-brow production, the Broadway revival of Tom Stoppard’s “Jumpers,” which also received heady reviews, closed July 11, earlier than expected.

With a potential actors’ strike casting its own shadow, the box office for the July 4 holiday week was particularly grim, as it often is. B.O. was off by 12% across the board, with several mainstays logging grim six-figure dips. The total isn’t likely to recover significantly next week, since the record-breaking “A Raisin in the Sun,” one of the spring’s few success stories, ends its limited run July 11 as well.

Among shows unlikely to survive a strike — or continuing declines at the B.O. — are the revivals of “Wonderful Town” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” Both grossed in the vicinity of $300,000 for the holiday week, dangerously low for full-scale musicals.

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