A new production in Tokyo, opening in January 2019, is just the first sighting of “Great Comet” outside of New York. At around the same time, a sit-down run (a stop of two weeks or more) is in the works in a U.S. city, with London plans due to be firmed up soon. A Korean incarnation looks likely as well, and interest is high in China and the Philippines.
This global expansion offer investors in the original production a chance to recoup some money after the flickering of the immersive, critically lauded, convention-defying Broadway production, which did big business with Josh Groban in one of the title roles but became a tougher sell without a headline star. A fumbled casting gambit— involving Mandy Patinkin, Okieriete Onaodowan and the optics of replacing a young African-American actor with an older white one — hastened a closing that came before the production could recoup more than 20% of its $12 million-plus capitalization.
For the biggest Broadway and West End hits, international markets are the real moneymakers, opening up multiple revenue streams that have added up to billions of dollars for shows like “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked.” But even for titles that aren’t unequivocal hits, stagings around the world can help producers make back some money — albeit more slowly.
In Tokyo, Japanese production company Toho and Nippon Broadcasting have partnered on a new, Japanese-language staging of “Great Comet” by director Kaori Kobayashi and starring Yoshio Inoue, a bona fide stage star in Japan. The plan, according to Simone Genatt of Broadway Asia (the licensing agent of “Great Comet” in the east), is to run the show at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater, a playhouse of less than 850 seats, for 30 performances in a proscenium staging with immersive elements. If it’s successful, it’ll be one of the musicals that Toho brings back annually, as has become tradition with titles like “Les Misérables.” (A subsequent run in Osaka is also a possibility.)
Genatt added that interest in “Great Comet” is high, in large part because the show can run in non-traditional spaces (as it did in its Off Broadway incarnation, in a tent with full food service) — a valuable commodity in Asian markets where Western-style venues appropriate for large-scale musical theater aren’t plentiful. The potential Korean outing (in a Korean-langue translation), aiming for late 2019, is likely to be staged in more of a Russian nightclub setting.
As for London, a plan should be in place by later this spring, according to Howard Kagan, the lead commercial producer of “Great Comet.” If the show doesn’t end up on the West End, it’ll aim for a non-traditional space. By reuniting the original designers, the London staging will look a bit more like the Broadway production than the Tokyo incarnation, but it’ll still be tailored to fit the venue.
In the U.S., most Broadway musicals that make a serious run at the Tony Awards (“Great Comet” was nominated for 12, and won two) would have announced a national tour by now. “Great Comet,” however, is planning something that will look more like a series of sit-down runs in cities around the country, with the first one likely to start early next year.
Among all these versions of the show, it’ll vary how much each individual production looks like the Broadway staging, given the variables in creative teams and venue. “It’ll never really be an exact replica,” Kagan said, “because it changes every time it moves to a new piece of real estate.”