B.O. buzzes around Tony noms

How does the recognition impact Broadway grosses?

As the producers of sure things like “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and “Doubt” sleep peacefully the night before Tony nominations are announced May 10, the folks behind several more commercially beleaguered Broadway shows will be biting their nails and popping Valium.

It remains to be seen whether “All Shook Up,” “Brooklyn,” “On Golden Pond,” “Little Women” and “Steel Magnolias” will have a Tony presence, but judging from their grosses, they could certainly use one.

Over the last five years, the best picture winner at the Oscars has boosted its box office by an average of 19% over pre-Oscar grosses, despite often having been in theaters for months.

But how do Tonys impact Broadway B.O.? Certainly, the bigger the category the better.

“Pundits say the only one that really moves you is the best musical award, but I’ve also seen the Tony for best play affect people,” says Robyn Goodman, producer of “Steel Magnolias” and last year’s winner for musical, “Avenue Q.”

Goodman posed the theory that Tonys give unknown quantities — like puppet musical “Avenue Q” — a stamp of mainstream approval. Last year, “Q” beat “Wicked” for the top musical honor, but “Wicked” became a monster hit anyway.

Though it’s debatable whether “Avenue Q” needed the Tony, it certainly needed it more than “Wicked” did. “Q” averaged $384,000 for the 10 weeks before the Tonys and $475,000 for the subsequent 10 weeks.

“There are probably shows on now that people are resistant to, and if they win a Tony, it’ll drop their resistance,” Goodman says. “There was no resistance to ‘Wicked’ from the beginning.”

In 2002, it was the traditional musical — “Thoroughly Modern Millie” — that really needed the Tony win and pulled it off. Its 11 weeks from the beginning of previews to the Tonys were each below $800,000. After it won, it had 13 straight weeks above $800,000.

That year’s quirky show was “Urinetown,” which lost for musical but snagged kudos for score, book and direction, and touted those wins in its ads. Both tuners recouped.

This year, “Spamalot” is the juggernaut, while “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “The Light in the Piazza” are the outsiders.

“Piazza” is at the nonprofit Lincoln Center, so bolstering grosses is less vital than for splashier commercial shows like “Spamalot” or “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” But Tony recognition would boost its legacy and help spur regional productions and revivals.

“Bee” hasn’t been on the boards long enough to be able to judge its B.O. prospects, but $309,431 during a heavily comped pre-opening preview week, out of a potential $456,554, isn’t bad.

But what about the shows resting precariously on the bubble — not only in terms of Tony recognition but survival? “Steel Magnolias” is one.

“I don’t think it needs the Tonys to keep it going,” says Goodman. “But would it bump up the box office if it got a lot of nominations? I would like to say yes, but I don’t know the answer.”

Having grossed below its $375,000 weekly running cost in each of the last four frames, “Little Women” could use a shot in the arm. But producer Randall Wreghitt is blase about the show’s potential gains from Tony noms.

“If we get them, we’ll certainly tout them, but I’m not planning a whole campaign around them,” he says.

“On Golden Pond” seems sure to get a nom for James Earl Jones for leading actor in a play. But additional noms in other categories — not to mention a win for Jones — could boost its gross, which has not yet topped $250,000 a week.

“Nominations should certainly give a bump, and wins give a higher bump,” says producer Jeffrey Finn, though he doesn’t think kudos will make or break the show. “The philosophy of ‘On Golden Pond’ has been slow and steady wins the race.”

Having survived longer than predicted after damning reviews, “Brooklyn” recently went on a three-week run of sub-$200,000 grosses, usually an indication that a closing notice is imminent. Tony noms might provide a life raft.

“All Shook Up” has been in the $500,000s for the last four weeks — right around breakeven point. A key nomination or two could give it a push.

The recently opened “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” has more unusual circumstances. It seems a dark horse for Tony recognition in top categories, but its box office — including $864,437 for its heavily comped opening-night week — is doing just fine.

In terms of revivals, “La Cage aux Folles” has fallen below $400,000 for the last three weeks, and “Sweet Charity” opened last week to tepid reviews. But the lack of competition this year dilutes the power of the musical revival Tony.

Given that the Tony telecast (June 5 this year) features production numbers from nominated tuners, noms generally provide more of a box office leg up to musicals than plays.

On rare occasions, however, noms can be a curse. In April 2000, “The Wild Party” opened to mixed notices. When the show got seven nods, the producers felt obliged to keep it going through the ceremony, despite the fact that it was losing money. It got no wins and promptly closed.

(Robert Hofler contributed to this report.)

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