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Christmas Musicals Skip Broadway This Year

After a crowded 2012, holiday-themed shows look beyond the Rialto

With holiday stage productions now nailing down Yuletide plans, it’s beginning not to look a lot like Christmas on Broadway this year.

Whereas last year’s holiday season saw an influx of mistletoe fare hit Gotham — with two titles on the Main Stem and two more at other venues around town — this year the sked, as it stands now, will see only two such titles land in New York. And neither of them will play Broadway.

That’s an about-face in a trend that has seen at least one limited run, holiday-themed production run on the Rialto since 2006. But that doesn’t mean Broadway is any less important a stop on the road to profitability for the slate of Christmas musicals.

Annual repeatability is key for any new seasonal musical, since a Broadway run limited to eight weeks (or even less) is likely to be far too short a time for a tuner to recoup the costs of development and production. Regional or touring productions of the title are also important for bolstering the coffers.

Even if Broadway isn’t in the this year’s plans for productions including “A Christmas Story” and “Elf” — the two tuners that went head to head last year on the Main Stem — each stands to benefit from its prior engagements on the Rialto.

After launching with a regional production and hitting the road in a tour, “Christmas Story” logged several weeks of boffo sales on Broadway last season. This year, though, the show will eschew the Main Stem entirely in favor of a run at the Theater at Madison Square Garden – but it’ll do so with the added imprimatur of its three Tony nominations and the national TV spotlight of a performance segment that aired during the Tony kudocast.

Producers intend to parlay the heightened profile of the property into a shorter run in a venue that’s larger than the Rialto standard, thereby maximizing the number of theatergoers they can get into the show in the weeks immediately preceding Christmas.

It’s those frames just before the holiday when demand spikes and grosses for Yuletide musicals go through the roof.  So this year “Christmas Story” will play MSG Dec. 11-29, capping off a tour that starts in Hartford, Conn. (Nov. 12-17) and Boston (Nov. 20-Dec. 8).

Meanwhile, “Elf” — developed for Broadway and produced there by Warner Bros. Theater Ventures (“Charlie and Chocolate Factory”) — has just locked in plans for a 14-stop tour that will play cities including Chicago, Miami and Washington, D.C. Produced by NETworks Presentations, the tour will carry lower running costs than a Rialto production while playing venues that are mostly larger than Broadway houses.

On the road, the title can capitalize on its “direct from Broadway” imprimatur following its two runs on the Rialto, where the show launched in 2010 before returning last year.

“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which kicked off Broadway’s holiday-musical experiments when it played the Main Stem in 2006 and 2007, had a run at the Theater at MSG last year but doesn’t have any plans for New York as yet. A touring version will play cities including Durham and San Antonio.

This year the only New York competition for “Christmas Story,” at least so far, is the Rockettes’ annual “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.” It’s not quite a traditional tuner along the lines of “Christmas Story,” but as holiday-themed live entertainment, it will offer some competish.

Recurring, annual Broadway runs for holiday shows can be a scheduling problem since theater availability tends to change at the last minute. This year, for instance, the strong spring slate, including “Kinky Boots” and “Motown,” has filled houses with a number of new shows that look likely to stick around for a while.

But since Broadway remains an important part of the mix for these shows, the lack of Christmas fare on the Rialto doesn’t necessarily mean these shows won’t be back next year.

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