As with all star casting, producers are betting the thesp has enough of a fanbase to spark some sales momentum at the box office. But in this unusual case, Braff arrives on the boards with a popularity factor that’s been freshly quantified: He has fans avid enough that his Kickstarter campaign to fund “Wish I Was Here” — his next feature after “Garden State,” the 2004 indie hit that he wrote, directed and toplined — hit its $2 million goal in four days, and ultimately logged 46,500 supporters throwing in a total of $3.1 million.
Now the question is: Will those same fans turn out to see him on Broadway?
Celebrities who take the crowdfunding route generally tend to find success with projects that are demonstrably in the creative’s wheelhouse. As a quirky indie comedy-drama that’s clearly in the same vein as “Garden State,” “Wish I Was Here” is no conceptual stretch for his fans.
Whether “Bullets Over Broadway” can mobilize his followers in the same way as his Kickstarter campaign remains to be seen, although it’s worth noting that Braff’s musical comedy skills are also something he’s shown off before, particularly in the musical episode of “Scrubs,” the longrunning comedy series that launched his career and began to earn him all those fans in the first place.
“Bullets,” opening in April at the St. James Theater, already has a creative pedigree that makes it one of the more anticipated outings of the 2013-14 season. It’s based on the well-known 1994 comedy by Woody Allen, who’s writing the book for the tuner adaptation with a score drawn from tunes of the 1920s era in which the story takes place. Susan Stroman, helmer of “The Producers” and “The Scottsboro Boys,” is on board to direct and choreograph.
Braff, playing the role originally portrayed by John Cusack in the movie, stars as a playwright forced to cast a gangster’s moll in his new play in order to get it produced. “The Sopranos” alum Vincent Pastore plays the mobster, with Helene York (“Grease”) taking on the part of the wannabe actress. Brooks Ashmanskas, Betsy Wolfe and Lenny Wolpe also are among the cast, with more thesps still to be set.
Broadway is littered with well-known actors that haven’t fared as well as expected at the box office — the most recent example being Alec Baldwin, whose toplining stint in “Orphans” this fall couldn’t stop the revival from closing early.
Braff comes to the Rialto with a measurable crowd of avid fans. But as the developing guidelines of Kickstarter success seem to make clear, it’s likely those fans will only become Broadway ticketbuyers if they’re convinced there’s sufficient overlap between what he’s doing in “Bullets” and what they want to see him do.