NEW YORK — It’s only December, but this season already is proving a tough one for new musicals on Broadway.
Its producers have announced that “High Fidelity” will shutter Sunday, becoming the second tuner this fall to close soon after it opened. Last month Twyla Tharp-Bob Dylan tuner “The Times They Are A-Changin'” threw in the towel less than a month after opening to negative reviews.
“Fidelity” was plagued by low advance sales and garnered downbeat reviews when it opened Thursday. Box office has struggled since the show began previews Nov. 20. The production has never grossed more than $310,000 in a week and grossed $282,734 last week.
It’s been an unusually competitive fall for new tuners. “Fidelity” was the fourth to open since late October, following “Times,” “Grey Gardens” and “Mary Poppins,” while “Spring Awakening” opened just a few days after “Fidelity.”
All that competish made it tough for new musicals to find their auds (excepting “Poppins,” which has the built-in appeal of a well-known family property).
“Grey Gardens,” for instance, was far from a sure bet on the Rialto, even after a hit run Off Broadway, and even in the Walter Kerr, a smaller theater that’s traditionally a play house. But powered by ecstatic reviews for Christine Ebersole in the lead role, the tuner has built steadily to become a surprisingly solid box office performer.
It seemed that “Fidelity” could have worked. The rock musical was based on the 1995 Nick Hornby novel that inspired the popular 2000 pic starring John Cusack. The book is by David Lindsay-Abaire, who scored a Rialto success last season with “Rabbit Hole,” and music was by newcomer Tom Kitt with lyrics by Amanda Green, daughter of legendary Rialto librettist Adolph Green.
But industry watchers posited that the plot, about a rock music snob and the girl who broke his heart, was too targeted toward young heterosexual men — precisely the demo least likely to embrace a Broadway musical.
“Times” seemed like a strong contender, too, since it was helmer-choreographer Tharp’s follow-up to her hit Billy Joel dance-ical “Movin’ Out.” “Times” even boasted tunes from the catalog of icon Bob Dylan.
But word of mouth was poor for both shows. Critics slammed “Times” for its muddled, circus-themed storyline, and they generally dismissed “Fidelity” as merely bland.
Producers of both decided to pull the plug quickly, which is less painful than pumping in ad money to eke out a slightly longer life, as the high-profile flop “In My Life” did last fall.
That both “Fidelity” and “Times” didn’t try to hold on through the holidays, a tourist-fueled time of box office bounty, confirms how difficult the climate is for rookie musicals.
Like “Grey Gardens,” “Spring Awakening” also had strong word of mouth from a hit run Off Broadway, and it, too, transferred to a small Rialto theater.
But even with music by pop tunesmith Duncan Sheik, sales were slow. Producers made no secret of their concern and pinned their hopes on the strong reviews that could bump up receipts.
They were lucky. Notices proved downright glowing, with the production reporting that, after weeks of low wraps, its advance was approaching $2 million in the wake of the reviews.
“We were counting on the reviews,” said “Awakening” producer Jeffrey Richards. “They made all the difference for us.”
Meanwhile, “Fidelity” producers Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller (who led the producing team with Robyn Goodman, their partner on “Avenue Q”) move on this winter to another challenge: “In the Heights,” another new musical — and this one Off Broadway, where it’s often even harder to make money.