With the Scott Rudin-produced Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” recouping its $4.25 million investment in the wake of the production’s three Tony wins, the 2013-14 season is turning into an object lesson in why so many starry names have crowded onto the Main Stem in recent seasons.
The Denzel Washington-toplined “Raisin” joins the James Franco and Chris O’Dowd starrer “Of Mice and Men,” which recently made back its $3.8 million investment, and Bryan Cranston outing “All the Way,” fresh off recouping its own $3.9 million, among the spring openers that all made their money back before the end of their limited engagements. In the fall, “Betrayal” (starring Daniel Craig), “The Glass Menagerie” (with Zachary Quinto) and Billy Crystal solo show “700 Sundays” were among the star-driven projects to turn a profit.
Contrast that with the number of this season’s musicals that have recouped — precisely zero — and it’s easy to see why play revivals with a big-name star (or three) have become a favorite model for Broadway producers. Compared to the year it often takes large-scale musicals to recoup, a play (usually a revival with a familiar title) that features a starry cast is one of the quickest, surest ways to make a buck on the Main Stem.
The reasons these productions tend to work at the B.O. are fairly obvious: A bankable star drives up demand that is further heightened by the limited ticket supply of a short engagement. A revival of a well-known title such as “Raisin” or “Menagerie” removes one more obstacle to the purchase, banishing any intimidating sense of unfamiliarity that might linger around a new, untested play.
But not every pairing of star and property can guarantee a profit — just ask producers of the Orlando Bloom-toplined revival of “Romeo and Juliet,” which closed at a loss. The current Daniel Radcliffe topliner “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” meanwhile, has logged only middling sales and attendance.
There are plenty of reasons for producers still to bet big on a large-budget musical. A limited run of a play may make a quick buck, but if you’re lucky enough to get behind an enduring Broadway property such as “The Phantom of the Opera” or “Wicked,” the money can roll in for years.
At the very least, the recent string of play recoupments should ensure that similar star-driven titles will continue to fill Broadway marquees with Hollywood names. Among the shows up to bat in the 2014-15 season: Bradley Cooper starrer “The Elephant Man,” Hugh Jackman topliner “The River” and “It’s Only a Play” with Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally.