TV viewers set the stage

Reality shows casting productions on the rise

LONDON — Vocal members of London’s theater community may be seriously underwhelmed by the business of tuners being cast by TV audiences, but the figures suggest the format won’t be disappearing in a hurry.

Four weeks ahead of its Aug. 8 opening, the new West End incarnation of “Grease” is sitting on an £8 million ($16 million) advance and is about to open a second booking period. Meanwhile, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (opening July 17) has responded to overwhelming demand by already releasing a second block of tickets. Unconfirmed reports peg the show’s advance in excess of $20 million.

These productions join “The Lion King,” “Mamma Mia!” “The Sound of Music” and “Wicked” atop the list of blockbusters continuing to do boffo business. But alarmingly few other West End shows are prevailing.

One intriguing exception is the surprisingly sturdy “Fiddler on the Roof.” Only four weeks into its run — in traditionally the weakest period for London box office — it has already recouped 25% of its costs. That’s despite its potentially profit-sapping route of running a half-price ticket program for children.

Producer Kim Poster picked up the production, which began life at the Sheffield’s Crucible Theater, transferring it into town at the uncommonly reasonable cost of $932,000.

Her cast of 27 and a 10-piece acoustic band — no synthesizers — suggests the show isn’t exactly cheap. But Poster points out that the weekly running costs, including royalty payments, are less than $200,000. She has kept costs down by putting all the cast (except children and understudies) on a royalty payable above the point of break-even plus the amortized costs of recoupment.

Those persuasive economics coupled with strong local reviews have elicited serious offers from further afield. Coming so soon after David Leveaux‘s Broadway revival, chances that the Brit staging will hop over to Gotham are zero. But Poster says producers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Florida and Toronto, plus tour producers in Europe and Japan are knocking on her door.

The London run at the Savoy has been extended through November. A further extension to the end of January is in the cards, but it’s dependent on the Savoy’s availability, which is uncertain due to prior programming agreements currently under wraps.

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