A world-premiere play on Broadway that clicked with auds, as well as many crix?
A Stephen Sondheim musical on Broadway that makes back its investment?
Such occurrences are rare, but two shows this season broke the mold.
“It’s a really scary proposition,” says David Lindsay-Abaire, referring to his play “Rabbit Hole,” which was not only a world premiere on Broadway but also his Broadway debut.
“I was relieved that the play worked,” he says. “I was relieved that people bought tickets and the reviews were fairly good. What more could I want? ‘The History Boys?’ ”
Financially, it helped that the producer, Manhattan Theater Club, has a subscription audience, and that the play starred well-known thesps Cynthia Nixon and Tyne Daly.
But Lindsay-Abaire says he appreciated the fact that MTC committed to putting the play in its Broadway theater, as opposed to its Off Broadway Stage I at City Center, before the cast was secured.
“There was some talk about doing a regional production first, but I had done a couple readings. I thought the play was very solid, and I thought I could make any changes during the rehearsal process,” Lindsay-Abaire says. “I’ve never felt like that with any play before.”
Sondheim scores don’t have a great financial track record, which was a concern of producer Richard Frankel, who had put up a hit revival of Sondheim’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in 1996.
“It was certainly discussed that ‘Sweeney Todd’s’ subject matter was not an easy one for tourists who populate Broadway these days,” says Frankel.
Then again, many theatergoers consider “Todd” one of the greatest tuners ever, and the John Doyle-helmed staging had been a smash in London.
Plus, Frankel says, this particular production needs to sell only a third of the seats to break even each week. It made back its $3.5 million capitalization in 19 weeks.
Frankel says that low nut is not the result of Doyle’s decision to have the actors play musical instruments. After all, these thesps are paid more than usual, and the show requires seven standbys for 10 performers, a higher-than-normal ratio. “The fact that it’s on one set, and they don’t change their clothes, makes it a relatively inexpensive show to run,” Frankel explains. “It’s not because we saved all this money by sticking tubas into divas’ hands.”
The Frankel Group returns to Doyle and Sondheim next season with a revival of “Company.”