Jukebox tuners fail to shake, rattle or even roll with crix, auds

Last season “Taboo” paid the price for not having an out-of-town tryout. In 2004-05, it is “Good Vibrations” that came naked to Broadway, exposing its wares to the media in an extended preview period.

Both shows (ominously) brought in director-doctors to make tweaks in the book and staging, and while there were rumors that Rosie O’Donnell would push back the “Taboo” preem, only the Beach Boys’ tuner ended up going the dreaded postponement route. (Dodgers Theatricals pushed back the “Vibrations” preem, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 — though the party went on as originally scheduled.)

Truth be told, the Jan. 27 fete at Dodger Stages was no “Dance of the Vampires” roast, where first-nighters openly dished the bloodletting show. “Better than expected. It’s not the worst,” said the “GV” partygoers. he Beach Boys’ own Mike Love offered an upbeat but qualified review: “My 9-year-old daughter loved it. I can’t complain about any of the songs I cowrote with my cousin Brian Wilson.”

Some partygoers argued that any show featuring Beach Boys songs is an improvement on one with Abba songs. The crix, however, did not agree with that “Mamma Mia!” comparison, and gave the Beach Boys show all-thumbs down. To paraphrase, vibrations are everything. “Mamma Mia!” came to Gotham as a certified West End hit, and arrived post 9/11 when crix didn’t want to bad-mouth the first big Broadway show of a distraught season.

Three years later with “Good Vibrations,” reviewers appear fed up with the rapidly aging genre of jukebox tuners, which does not bode well for the next two, “All Shook Up” and “Lennon.”

From here, the $7.7 million “Vibrations” looks to have “good wraps,” says Dodgers partner Ed Strong, and a relatively low break-even of $375,000 at the O’Neill Theater.

Strong does not feel the Dodgers made a mistake previewing the show cold in Gotham. “There’s the appeal of (lower) productions costs,” he says. “More often we’ve done it this way. When we’ve gone out of town, to a nonprofit, there’s a sizable gap (in time) before Broadway.”

That plan worked with their “Big River” two decades ago. It didn’t work this season with “Dracula.” The Dodgers’ new one, “Jersey Boys,” will come to Broadway having played La Jolla Playhouse.

Strong says the Internet gossip is relentless regardless of where a show is previewed nowadays. “The dotcom world is buzzing, even if it is regional theater. ‘Dracula’ and ‘Jersey Boys’ had it on their first previews in La Jolla,” Strong recalls.

Tuner troubles

So far, the 2004-05 season has not been kind to its new tuners.

LCT did not extend “The Frogs.” “Dracula” has closed. “Brooklyn” hovers around its $275,000 break-even. A week after its January 23 premiere, “Little Women” had a promising, if not spectacular, jump of $110,373 for a final tally of $453,011 at the Virginia Theater.

By comparison, “Brooklyn” rose $97,219 to finish with $336,018 in its first week at the smaller Plymouth Theater. (But then, it opened in the headier B.O. month of October.)

“Little Women” producer Randall Wreghitt is quick to point out, “Our break-even is only $375,000.”

Advance, group and TKTS sales can buoy a new musical for a few weeks.

“Amour,” which shuttered in fall 2002 after two weeks, is the only recent example of a Broadway musical that tanked on arrival.

“Brooklyn” producer Benjamin Mordecai promises a TV and radio campaign designed around the first two weeks of March for his show.

Regarding its current low profile, he says, “You spend major marketing dollars when people want to go to the theater.” On the plus side, the show has deep pockets in Transamerica, which has returned to showbiz with “Brooklyn.” (Next season, it is lead producer on the soon-to-be-retitled “Like Jazz.”)

The warmer month of March may not bring B.O. relief for any show already on the boards.

All it guarantees is “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Spamalot” and “All Shook Up,” with “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “The Light in the Piazza” to follow in April.

Broadway typically has every one of its 39 theaters filled in April, and while the street’s total receipts can be expected to set records, individual shows often wilt at the box office from all the competition.

There is also the dreaded stop-clause. The New Group’s “Hurlyburly” and Second Stage’s “Spelling Bee” are circling potentially available theaters.

In recent seasons, “The Price” at the Royale and “Metamorphoses” at Circle in the Square saw themselves evicted in the spring after only two bad weeks of winter biz.

Robyn Goodman has not forgotten. “It should be longer than two weeks,” says the “Metamorphoses” producer. “What other retail business closes after two money-losing weeks?”

Mordecai says, “We’ve never gone below our stop clause.”

Neither he nor the Shuberts’ Gerald Schoenfeld would discuss the stop-clause sum at the Plymouth, but reports have it in the area of $200,000.

MTC’s new hit, “Brooklyn Boy,” may also be looking for a new Broadway home. Will the nonprofit org find another theater for the Biltmore’s next tenant, Elaine May’s “After the Night and the Music,” or move the Donald Margulies play? No statement there, but the latter scenario appears more likely.

The Virginia, O’Neill and Plymouth Theaters are all play-friendly in size.

Of those three tenants, “Little Women” has carved out a niche that may make it most likely to survive the spring flood of newer tuners.

Last week’s post-preem perfs of “Little Women” brought out an audience that made the other girl-power shows, “Hairspray” and “Wicked,” look positively geriatric by comparison.

At the Virginia, the usual cell-phone buzz was replaced with the crackling of candy wrappers so incessant that some theatergoers thought the sound system had malfunctioned. Nearly every adult came with a kid or two. Not seen at “LW,” however, were many parents out on a date with another parent, which is what turned “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast” into superhits.

For now, modest success may be enough.

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