Could Anyone Follow ‘Springsteen on Broadway’? Here Are Five Things They’d Need (Guest Column)

Could Anyone Follow ‘Springsteen on Broadway’?

After 235-odd shows, with grosses in excess of $100 million, a Special Tony Award and a hotly anticipated Netflix special debuting Sunday, “Springsteen on Broadway” is an unprecedented Broadway blockbuster.

As with any success in entertainment, the rush to replicate The Boss’ one-man show reportedly is under way, with a consortium led by Live Nation, CAA and Entertainment Benefits Group said to be seeking a Broadway theater where musicians across multiple genres could perform three-week mini residencies to sell-out, intimate audiences, according to the New York Post. Names including Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, Bette Midler, James Taylor, Diana Ross, the Eagles and Michael Bublé were floated, along with Barbra Streisand and even Beyonce. (Reps for those companies either denied knowledge of such a plan or did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.)

But unlike the Vegas residency model, where pop and rock stars scale down arena-level productions to a more intimate setting, the mechanics that made “Springsteen On Broadway” work so well are much more complex. Not every artist has a New York-ready story like Bruce, and the few others that do have either forged successful larger residencies (Billy Joel’s monthly run at Madison Square Garden, Jerry Seinfeld’s ongoing Beacon Theatre engagement), or will likely wait a few years for the Boss’ shadow to recede (“Bon Jovi on Broadway” already seems like a sequel).

Further rarefying the air is the fact that not many artists could sell the kind of tickets Bruce can — even without a Broadway underplay. His most recent full-scale tour, a year-plus trek celebrating the 35th anniversary of his 1980 album “The River,” grossed more than $306 million, according to Pollstar.

Still, there remain a handful of artists with the right mix of narrative, fan following and fine-tuned stage presence that could easily fill a small theater for three weeks — Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks and Alicia Keys all come to mind, and with the right combo of treatment and paycheck, even Madonna is a possibility (hey, she went down memory lane for several minutes during her Aretha Franklin “tribute” at the VMAs this year). Here are five things a “Springsteen on Broadway” successor would need.

1.     A show that goes beyond just a concert on Broadway
What’s worked for Billy Joel and Jerry Seinfeld in a more traditional concert format doesn’t necessarily translate to Broadway. With “Springsteen” hot on the heels of the 2016 autobiography “Born to Run,” theatregoers have come to expect a mix of intimate storytelling, performance art, and impassioned performances of hits and deep cuts that feels like a live performance of the world’s greatest audiobook. Like the best theatre, Bruce uses two-odd hours to transform himself from a naïve bar-band musician to a mature father, understanding son and superstar. Keith Richards is one of the few musicians in recent years to release a memoir with equally theatrical stories, although the prospect of him doing such a show might be far-fetched, given his day job. One name that’s already been floated for this new Broadway model is Barbra Streisand, who’s been working on a memoir for years. With a market value ticket price and the right director, the lure of Broadway may result in an ultra-limited run that brings her decades of stories to life.

2.     A hits-heavy set
Though “Springsteen on Broadway” dips into some of the more obscure parts of the Boss’ catalog to advance the narrative, it also has touchstone moments for more reinterpreting hits like “Born In The U.S.A.,” “Dancing In The Dark” and “Born To Run.” That’s one reason why Paul Simon (1998’s “The Capeman”) and Sting (2014’s “The Last Ship”) struggled to find an audience when they launched musicals of all-new material, although Sting will try again, starring in a Toronto production of “The Last Ship” next year. By exploring the more intimate, storytelling arc employed by Bruce, songwriters like James Taylor or even a Garth Brooks, who’s played to massive crowds in Central Park and Yankee Stadium, may find a sizable audience eager to pay for a theatrical spin on the hits and lesser-known gems from their respective catalogs.

3.     An exclusive, limited run that can scale up if needed
“Springsteen On Broadway” was initially slated for just a five-week run at the 975-seat Walter Kerr Theatre before overwhelming demand extended the show into June 2018 (and again into December). The proposed three-week model is a smart relatively risk-free approach to test the waters with artists whose touring is otherwise infrequent – like, say, Dolly Parton, who has arguably more fans in the LGBTQ+ fans in the New York area than anywhere else in the country. A three-week Broadway residency model equates to roughly 15-20,000 tickets, which is one night of an arena run for a superstar artist. An artist’s ability to translate that to a smaller window at a higher price tag (Springsteen’s highest ticket range is $500-$850) will come down to the equity they have with their fanbase.

4.     Appeal to the entire household
Broadway audiences are made up of three primary groups: New York City and Tri-state area moms and families, Midwestern tourists and the LGBTQ+ community. Where “Springsteen on Broadway” is truly unique is its ability to attract a fourth audience — older males and Jersey natives — who might not otherwise frequent the Great White Way. Billy Joel has already done a remarkable job drawing this audience (and its Long Island equivalent) to his monthly residency at Madison Square Garden, but that long-running concert series’ radius clause — and healthy revenues — may preclude the Piano Man from a potential Broadway bow. Still, by creating a one-of-a-kind experience for his core fans, Bruce broadened the playing field for other artists whose catalogs might not fit as neatly into a jukebox format.

5.     Embrace an Empire State Of Mind
New York has been home and birthplace to many artists across every imaginable genre, particularly the Latin music movement that Marc Anthony helped accelerate in the ‘90s. Having just played Madison Square Garden on his Legacy Tour, and filling Yankee Stadium alongside Romeo Santos in 2014, the proud Bronx native could conceivably celebrate his long history of Latin music — and more — on a limited Broadway stage.

In a more R&B direction, few New York-based females have found more success in recent years than Alicia Keys, who grew up mere steps from Broadway in Hell’s Kitchen. After multiple Top 10, Grammys and multiplatinum albums, she collaborated with Jay-Z to write the most iconic NYC song of a generation. Plus, her diverse fan base has more in common with “Hamilton” than Springsteen; Broadway has room for a big voice with a powerful female point of view — a voice that can be intimate, inclusive and achingly beautiful.

And finally, looking to Springsteen’s Jersey brethren, Bon Jovi is the most obvious choice — but perhaps so obvious that he’d be wise to let a few others give it a spin first, and let anticipation build.

To paraphrase a line from “Springsteen on Broadway,” the Boss has worked a spectacular magic trick on Broadway. Here’s hoping more can follow the set-up.

Joe Killian is an Emmy-Award winning producer, brand partnerships consultant and founder of entertainment agency Killian & Company.