The case of hit that turned flop

British producers eye US collapse of 'Enron'

It’s not too difficult to find reasons why “Enron” sputtered on Broadway, costing a big chunk of its $3.6 million capitalization.

But how do you account for its success in London?

The London incarnation has recouped in an eye-widening five weeks, unusual even for a show that was a regional success. Following two SRO seasons at Chichester’s Minerva Theater and the Royal Court, the London run has extended its booking period for the second time.

And despite an almost complete cast change May 10, the box office is showing no signs of slowing, with perfs now skedded until Aug. 14.

Matthew Byam Shaw, the London lead producer and co-producer on Broadway with Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel, is sanguine about its dramatically opposed fortunes. To a degree, he argues, the story is a tale of two cities.

“In London, the City crowd (the financial sector) have been coming in droves,” he says. “Over here, if you work in the financial sector, this is the play to see for entertainment. On Broadway, maybe because the Goldman Sachs story was unraveling nightly on TV, or maybe because the Enron collapse was a terrible episode best forgotten, whatever it was, the Wall Street crowd didn’t come.”

Byam Shaw, no stranger to trans-Atlantic transfers, has had Gotham hits including “Frost/Nixon,” “Boeing-Boeing,” “Hamlet” and “Red.”

“But, without doubt, the ambiguous, ironic and playful tone mixing theatrical genres in ‘Enron’ was not beloved by American audiences,” he says. “It’s good to accept defeat gracefully, and to leave quickly to minimize losses.”

Those Gotham losses, however, should be seen in the light of London profits.

“We’ve built up the reserves in a conservative way to keep enough for a rainy day, but we’ve just made one of the most substantial profit distributions I’ve ever made on any show,” Byam Shaw says. “And there’s another one imminent.”

Maybe the secret is that Gotham audiences simply don’t like paying top dollar to see capitalism being attacked. There’s precedent in Caryl Churchill’s equally audacious, genre-busting sensation “Serious Money,” to which “Enron” is seriously indebted. A Royal Court and West End hit loudly applauded by the brokers it attacked, it sailed onto Broadway in 1988 and closed after just 15 performances — one fewer than “Enron.”

Meantime, moves are afoot on either side of the Pond, with trans-Atlantic tuners eyeing berths in both cities.

“Sister Act” is searching for a spring 2011 Gotham home and new London digs, having agreed to quit the Really Useful Theater’s London Palladium on Oct. 30 to make way for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s revamp of “The Wizard of Oz,” which has previews beginning March 29.

Directed by Jeremy Sams (also author of the new book) and designed by Robert Jones, “Oz” will star whoever wins Lloyd Webber’s BBC TV-casting show “Over the Rainbow,” which reaches the semifinal May 15.

“Sister Act” finds itself in competition with “Shrek the Musical” — which is also in a holding pattern over London’s tuner venues — as well as the hoped-for landings of “Million Dollar Quartet” and “Xanadu.”

Meantime, despite a raft of changes being inserted in the “Phantom” sequel “Love Never Dies,” rumors persist that the new show may, like “The Addams Family,” struggle once it has exhausted its initial advance. Naysayers suggest “Love” might never make the voyage across the Atlantic.

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