Star Abigail Breslin, subject awareness draws unusual crowd
Funny thing about the preview performances of “The Miracle Worker,” now playing at Circle in the Square: The audiences are full of families.All-ages draws are nothing new on Broadway, of course, especially since the mid-’90s clean-up of Times Square came coupled with the launch of Disney Theatrical Prods.’ string of family offerings. But these days it’s tuners such as “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins” that are more commonly targeted to all age groups. Plays, meanwhile, tend to aim themselves squarely at the habitual theatergoing adult, as with recent R-rated offerings “God of Carnage” or “A Steady Rain.” For “Miracle Worker” — toplined by Abigail Breslin as Helen Keller — there’s anecdotal evidence of an unusually large contingent of parents and grandparents buying ducats for themselves and their offspring. Auds skew young — really young, down to 6 years old. The youthful turnout has a logical explanation, according to producer David Richenthal. “It’s one of the few plays that’s taught in school, so you start with the advantage that schoolchildren are aware of it,” he says. “Also the story is about a young girl, and there’s a star who’s very popular with young and preteen audiences.” Matinees sell out quickly. After the show opens March 3, the production’s performance sked will include three 7 p.m. curtains per week, in part to cater to theatergoers with earlier bedtimes. There’s also ample school-group biz to be taken advantage of. Richenthal confirms word that so far the young auds are unusually well-behaved — more so than the younger theatergoers were in the 1999 revival of another school-group magnet, “Death of a Salesman,” which he also produced. He thinks they’re paying attention because they can more readily identify with the tough kid heroine than with sad-sack grown-up Willy Loman. “The children are always the most enthusiastic audience members,” he notes. And parents can’t possibly find anything objectionable in the 1959 play’s familiar tale of overcoming adversity. “The material has the advantage of not offending anybody,” he says. Helmer Mark Brokaw and playwright Regina Taylor are among the creatives added to the legit roster at WME, whose theater division has been topped by John Buzzetti since late last year. Gotham regular Brokaw (“After Miss Julie”) recently helmed “Post Office,” the new tuner by Melissa James Gibson (“This”) and Michael Friedman (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”) now in a developmental production at Center Theater Group in L.A. A full production there is looking like a possibility. Taylor (“Crowns”), meanwhile, has recently penned a trilogy, the first two installments of which — “Jar Fly” and “Rain” — will be seen in a regional co-production this season. She and Brokaw join a WME lineup that got a jolt of young legit talent when Buzzetti jumped from Gersh to WME. Projects also gaining momentum from WME clients are the tuner incarnation of “Bring It On” (with songs by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Jeff Whitty), which gained good word-of-mouth from a recent industry reading; and the untitled Mormon musical that teams South Park creatives Trey Parker and Matt Stone with Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”), bowing later this year at New York Theater Workshop.
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