Will ‘Shakespeare in Love’ Brave Broadway?

Everybody loves the new West End adaptation of “Shakespeare in Love.” Everybody, that is, except the New York Times.

The July 23 opening of “Shakespeare in Love” in London yielded the kind of gushing reviews rarely earned by Disney Theatrical Prods., which co-produces “Shakespeare” with prolific Broadway and West End producer Sonia Friedman Prods. (“Jerusalem,” “The Norman Conquests,” the upcoming stage outing of the “Harry Potter” franchise). On the whole, U.K. critics gushed, falling all over themselves to write things like “It makes you feel grateful to be alive” (an actual quote from the Independent’s review).

Given the profile both of the producing team and of the title of the Oscar-winning 1998 film on which the play is based, the production already looked like a strong candidate for a move to Broadway. That possibility seems even more likely now that scribes are describing the show as “the best British comedy since [Broadway success] ‘One Man, Two Guvnors'” (from the Telegraph’s five-star review), “a swooning, skittish delight” (another five stars from the Daily Mail), “witty and warm-hearted” (in the Guardian) and  “a joyous, poignant show” (from the Financial Times).

But the one hitch that got legiters talking — including in an earlier post on Deadline.com — is the pan handed to the production by the New York Times, which described “Shakespeare in Love” in terms that include “slightly synthetic,” “ersatz” and “‘Shakespeare for Sophomores.'” Should the staging venture across the pond, the same critic would most likely review in New York as part of what is Times protocol.

That could be a daunting obstacle, since Broadway’s relatively small pool of playgoers tend to pay more attention to print critics than the tourist-packed crowds at most musicals.

SEE ALSO: Theater Review: Disney’s ‘Shakespeare in Love’

On the other hand, Disney Theatrical productions rarely rely on critical response, particularly from the Times, which gave a mixed review at best to “The Lion King,” the show that went on to become Disney’s signature megahit. That critic-proof quality can be attributed in part to the automatic appeal of the company’s titles, with which auds have an affectionate familiarity from the movies that inspired them. The same could potentially be said for “Shakespeare in Love,” even if it is a play rather than a family-friendly musical.

Besides, not every U.S. outlet gave “Shakespeare in Love” a thumbs-down. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, called the show “delicious and satisfying,” and Variety’s London critic deemed it “a big-hearted hit.” In addition, many U.S. playgoers are major anglophiles who might put even more stock in notices from across the Pond.

Should Disney and Friedman bring “Shakespeare” to Broadway, the show doesn’t seem likely to become a multi-year mainstay like “Lion King.” Even hit plays don’t endure that long in the current Broadway climate; that’s doubly true for a large-scale play with high running costs such as “Shakespeare,” boasting a crowded cast of 28 actors (with live musicians on top of that). Nonetheless, a New York run of a year or even less could potentially turn a tidy profit, if it turns into a must-see.

For the moment, however, the show’s producers remain noncommittal. “We’re thrilled that critics love the show as much as have audiences,” said Thomas Schumacher, the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Prods.  “All our efforts right now are focused on launching the production on the long, healthy West End run this wonderful production deserves.”

But if the London reviews spur the kind of West End sales success of which stage producers dream, then no one would be surprised if Disney and Friedman gave Broadway a go, too.

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