From Brutus to Burton

'Julius Caesar' hits B'way at a torrid pace

NEW YORK — In recent years, the legit gods have turned one play revival a season into an audience phenom: “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 2003, and “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2004. “The Iceman Cometh” in 1999 was similarly anointed, benefiting from much London buzz.

With no such pedigree, “Julius Caesar” started previews on Broadway at an equally torrid pace. Its preview grosses (around $550,000) at the small 997-seat Belasco Theater beat what most musicals earn. The $80 average ticket is only a couple of bucks less than what “Wicked” commands.

When did the Bard turn boffo?

As of late, Shakespeare on Broadway has become the province of nonprofits (Lincoln Center Theater’s 2003 “Henry IV” with Kevin Kline and Ethan Hawke) or commercial transfers from Britain (Almeida’s 1995 “Hamlet” with Ralph Fiennes).

The last made-for-Broadway venture was the Scottish play, starring Kelsey Grammer, who proved Shakespeare lovers don’t know “Frasier” from “Friends.” It shuttered after 13 perfs in June 2000.

“Julius Caesar,” however, looks to go into the record books alongside Alexander Cohen’s 1964 production of “Hamlet,” starring Richard Burton, which had the commercial advantage (but acoustical disadvantage) of playing the 1,475-seat Lunt-Fontanne. The B.O. also was goosed by Burton’s well-timed nuptials: During the show’s Toronto tryout, he finally married longtime paramour Elizabeth Taylor, who had the commercial savvy to show up for every one of Husband No. 5’s 137 sold-out perfs.

Brutus, of course, is no Hamlet.

“The great thing about Denzel is that he’s a star,” says “Caesar” producer Carole Shorenstein Hays, “but he’s part of the company.”

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