Of Mice and Men James Franco

NT Live, the National Theater’s successful series of cinema broadcasts of theater performances, has tapped its first Broadway title with “Of Mice and Men,” the Broadway revival that stars James Franco, Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester.

The production closes Sunday, but the cast will stick around for a private Tuesday performance that will be filmed for NT Live. Screening dates for “Of Mice and Men” remain to be set.

Although New York’s Metropolitan Opera has created a reliable new revenue stream with its international digital cinemacasts of opera performances, Broadway has lagged far behind as U.K. initiatives, spearheaded by NT Live from London’s National Theater, have taken the lead in cinema screenings of live theater events.

In this case, Broadway has taken an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, with the producers of “Of Mice and Men,” led by David Binder (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), partnering with NT Live, which has established itself as an international brand through some 40 screenings of National Theater fare including “War Horse” and “Frankenstein” (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller), as well as non-National titles such as Helen Mirren starrer “The Audience” and Tom Hiddleston topliner “Coriolanus.”

NT Live operates on a business model that shares profits with the creatives and the producers of the filmed productions, according to David Sabel, the National’s director of broadcast and digital. The success of NT Live offerings at the cinema box office varies per title, of course, but onstage at least, “Of Mice and Men” has turned a profit, recouping its $3.8 million capitalization costs last month.

The “Of Mice and Men” cinemacast stands poised to benefit from the established audience base and cinema network for NT Live, which works with BY Experience, the distributor that also handles the Met’s series of programming,  in disseminating its fare to U.S. movie theaters.

Not many Broadway productions have ventured into cinemacast territory, among them the musical “Memphis” and a Roundbout Theater Company revival of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” In 2007 “Legally Blonde” surprised Broadway with a pact to air, in its entirety, on MTV while the show was still running.

If NT Live’s first foray into Broadway works, other productions seem likely follow suit. If they do, cinemacasts could become a more regular and sustainable source of revenue for New York productions, as well as a new international showcase for the Broadway brand.

The deal for “Of Mice and Men” came together at the last minute, according to both Binder and Sabel. The production’s screen stars provided the impetus for the filming, said Binder. “More than anything it came from the cast, because they live in film,” he said.

Because of the accelerated timing, “Of Mice and Men” will be the first NT Live title that won’t include live screenings. Sabel said if more Broadway productions participate in NT Live, he’d hope to incorporate the live cinemacast element that has become part of the standard template for its U.K. fare.

“Of Mice and Men” closes July 27, with the performance to be filmed July 29 before an invited audience.

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