It’s not impossible to open a Broadway show over the summer — but it can be very, very hard. As if to prove the point: Musical “First Date,” which opened in August, announced it would finish off its run Jan. 8, after struggling to gain traction at the box office.
That makes the last of 2013’s summer openers to fall, after the short-lived “Soul Doctor” (which opened Aug. 15) and “Let It Be” (July 24), the Beatles tribute than ended its run significantly earlier than its planned Dec. 29 exit due to lackluster biz. “Forever Tango” (July 9) played its full 10-week run, but its middling initial sales tapered to even lower levels by the end of the stint. (John Grisham adaptation “A Time to Kill,” which opened Oct. 20, also just announced a closing.)
Hits have come out of the summer before. Most memorably, “Hairspray” bowed in August 2002 to critical raves and strong sales, and managed to stay front-of-mind for Tony voters the following spring, when the tuner picked up eight trophies. That the four shows that opened over summer 2013 never connected with auds is as much down to the shows themselves as to the time of year they opened.
But a hot-weather bow can make it even tougher on a new title. Summertime tourists generally don’t go out of their way for a show they’ve never heard of; they usually flock to the longrunning icons (“The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked”) and the newly-minted spring hits — which this year included the unusually strong crop of “Kinky Boots,” “Motown,” “Matilda” and “Pippin.”
Of the summer 2013 openers, “First Date” probably stood the strongest chance of drawing auds. Show came to the Rialto following a well-received run at 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, and starred TV name Zachary Levi (“Chuck”) in his Main Stem debut. Plotline — a single blind date, with all its moments of anxiety and hope unpacked musically — was targeting an everyone-can-relate sweet spot.
Gotham reviews, however, were mixed, despite generally upbeat notices for Levi’s work. Weekly B.O. receipts never topped $450,000; for the week ending Nov. 3, sales came in at a low $281,538, with audiences averaging 54% of capacity.
Written by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, the songwriting duo that also penned the tuner adaptation of “Secondhand Lions,” and book writer Austin Winsberg, “First Date” stars a cast led by Levi and Krysta Rodriguez (“Smash”). Bill Berry, producing director at 5th Avenue, helms for a producing team led by Junkyard Dog Prods (“Memphis”).
“First Date” will close Jan. 4, sticking it out on the Rialto through the end-of-the-year holidays, traditionally among the most profitable times on Broadway. Given the show’s relatively small size for a musical, the title could go on to find a life on regional, stock and amateur stages.