Give 'em the old Star Replacement
Ya Got Trouble, my friend, right here in New York City...
Whilst the holiday season generally means an increase in theatre goers to Broadway, the time immediately after it is make or break. With many shows having already posted closing notices for January 4, ahead of the upcoming bleak period, others struggle on with the aim of awards season usually in sight.
The New York Times recently reported that it's been a slow start for the new productions that opened during the Fall, with 'Side Show', 'On the Town' and 'Honeymoon in Vegas' reporting somewhat troubling box office figures. Exactly how much 'cushion' each show has in order to get through the winter in the hope of finding an audience and potentially an award is obviously not know, but this slow start is not the death knell many gossip rags hope. However, with a slew of new productions waiting literally in the wings, pressure is put on theatre owners to close a show prematurely, ahead of what it hoped a fresh title for the Spring.
Last year a similar trend occurred with the Fall openings, with A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder proving successful throughout the festive period, reporting grosses of over $800,000 for the final two weeks of the year. No sooner was the new year rung in than the box office took a steep decline, tumbling to it's lowest ever gross in Week 9 (Feb 24), of just over $380,000. Pressure on Producers however was overcome by their faith in the production, which had been well received by critics, and the prospects of awards firmly on the table.
When the Tony Award nominations were announced in Week 18, leaving the show as the front runner (despite Mr. Riedel's arguments to the contrary), the box office began to pick up considerably. Suddenly the graph was on an upward climb, peaking at week 29, just shy of $1million. The show had won the Tony Award for Best New Musical and the benefits of both the award itself and the performance on the nationwide telecast allowed it to reap the financial rewards.
So there is hope in past experience for producers of this year's crop of musicals, but that hasn't stopped them from worrying.
Sting's musical The Last Ship announced this week that the composer himself would step into one of the lead roles in order to help save the show, which has failed to take off at the box office, grossing between $400,000 and $575,000 since opening in week 40.
The move may seem reminiscent of the long running Broadway show 'Chicago' (which incidentally celebrated becoming the second longest running musical in town only this week), which has survived in the main due to its attraction to tourists and its reliance on celebrity take overs in each of its main roles. "Give 'em the old Star Replacement" sings the off-Broadway revue show 'Forbidden Broadway', citing star turns from Jerry Springer, Usher and Billy Ray Cyrus to explain how the show has managed to keep going for 17 years.
There is something different however about 'The Last Ship' as unlike just any celebrity, Sting will be appearing in the show which he has written himself, and recorded a concept album of many of the songs. Pop composers writing musicals is certainly nothing new. The marketing behind Elton John and Tim Rice's 2001 collaboration with Disney Theatricals AIDA was constantly changed to place more prominence on the composer rather than the title, to the point where confused tourists saw the show thinking he would be playing the role of the Nubian Princess (if only) only to be disappointed. Last season's big hit Kinky Boots didn't quite need the same emphasis on composer Cyndi Lauper to be a hit - the show was already riding on the back of a film title and the golden hand of Harvey Fierstein, the industry darling. Bono stayed well clear of Spiderman Turn off the Dark, despite writing the music, but in this instance that was a show that didn't need another reason not to see it.
Sting is currently slated to join the show on 10 December, running through 9 January 2015. Fans will no doubt flock to see him in his Broadway debut, and hopefully his presence won't outshine the hard work done by the many others around him, including the wonderful Rachel Tucker, who in my eyes was the standout star of the show. I can't help feeling however that dropping into the show will ultimately do more harm than good. Once he leaves and the cold winter kicks in, unless he is replaced by someone of equal stature, surely the interest in the show will dry up, this time faster than before? If you're given the chance to see the show with Sting in it, you would take it, but where is the audience then left come the new year? Feeling like they've missed out, that's where.
Sting's music was commended by most critics, and it's the book that lets the show down overall. Despite the weight of two Tony Award winning and one Pulitzer prize winning writers, the story is unbelievable, trite and fundamentally predictable, which in my opinion leaves you feeling cold. Like Jimmy Nail (who Sting is replacing) the composer will at least have the accent down, which is sadly more than can be said for 98% of the cast. As a native northerner it was extremely difficult to listen to most of the accents that seemed to range from Wales, to Northern Ireland and almost everywhere in between.
Only time will tell how this move will ultimately shape the future of the show. With any luck it will struggle on to awards season and get a much needed boost in a similar way to 'Gentleman's Guide', but sadly I think this particular ship has already begun to sink.