Stage turn could yield box office boom

Plans are underway for Tom Hanks to appear on Broadway next season — and if he does, the thesp looks set to join the small pool of performers whose name alone can ring in boffo box office sales.

No deals are set yet, but word has begun to get out that Hanks is in talks to star in Nora Ephron’s new play, “Lucky Guy,” about Gotham tabloid columnist Mike McAlary. George C. Wolfe is in the mix as helmer, with a possible timeline that would see rehearsals begin in January for a limited run in spring 2013.

Given his Hollywood profile, Hanks has the potential to become the latest big-name thesp to power a stellar B.O. Despite an influx of stars to the Rialto in recent years, the list of people who can consistently pull in million-dollar-plus weeks is a short one.

Most recent performer to join the roster is Ricky Martin, currently starring in the Broadway revival of “Evita.” Thanks to an international music career that made him a household name, particularly in Latin American and other Spanish-speaking territories, Martin has fueled weekly sales at “Evita” that began at more than $1 million (in a shortened initial sesh of only six previews rather than the usual eight) and now currently hover around $1.5 million per frame.

Such sales put Martin in a tight cluster of B.O. power houses that also includes Hugh Jackman (who proved his sales mettle this season with “Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway”), Denzel Washington (“Fences”), Al Pacino (“The Merchant of Venice”) and Julia Roberts (“Three Days of Rain”).

Such stars can have mixed track records with Gotham critics and legit awards: Jackman and Washington have both scored Tonys, whereas Martin and Roberts weren’t even nommed. In any event, a Tony snub doesn’t seem to hurt sales much.

In some cases, a performer’s box office draw can be enhanced — or hampered — by the property that brings them to the Rialto. Take Daniel Radcliffe, who propelled the Rialto revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” to million-plus weeks during the tourist-heavy summer months and over the holidays.

His youthful fan base from the “Harry Potter” franchise didn’t mesh as well with the first title to bring him to Broadway, “Equus,” a dark, adult psycho-thriller complete with nudity and equine eye-gouging. That show never made it into the black; the family-friendly, familiar “How to Succeed in Business” was a much better fit for his target demo.

The premium-ticket frenzy for star turns can also be stoked by a limited engagement, often a necessity given the busy work skeds of many of these thesps. In this regard, it remains to be seen whether Martin, who will be in “Evita” for a year, can keep sales figures lofty when the tourist tide goes out in the fall.

Although a limited Broadway gig for Hanks looks like money in the bank, there are never any guarantees. Jane Fonda seemed a solid candidate to pull in crowds, but weekly sales for her 2009 run in “33 Variations” never cracked $400,000. And few would have expected it, but “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino proved a box office boon for “The Color Purple,” with her 2007 stint prompting an astonishing and enduring sales spike.

Should “Lucky Guy” come together, Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender would produce.

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