Michael Riedel documents the panic over at High Fidelity: The Musical. A great example of deluded producers who just don't get the demographics of Broadway at all.
Uh, ok Michael. But point well taken.
According to production sources, "High Fidelity" so far has sold about $600,000 worth of tickets, an appallingly low figure for a $10 million show.
In Boston, where the show recently wrapped up its out-of-town tryout, the box office was a disaster. The owner of Colonial Theater is said to have taken a $1 million bath.
The problem, sources say, is that the show's target audience - straight males in their 20s and 30s - would rather be caught in a gay bar than at a Broadway musical.
And then, let's not forget about the music itself!
Yes, let's face it: John Cusack, Jack Black and the Stones over here--cheezy soft-pop musicals over there. And ne'er the twain shall meet. (Or, to quote an old Adam Sandler skit: "Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one!") Of course this might be fine if the B'way "High Fidelity" managed to reinvent itself to appeal to a different audience. But: "women - who buy the vast majority of tickets to Broadway shows - appear to be shunning 'High Fidelity,' even though it's being billed as a 'romantic comedy.' "
The John Cusack-Jack Black movie of "High Fidelity" made great use of classic songs by the Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder (early Stevie Wonder!) to tell the story of a lonely slacker... who's obsessed with his record collection....But the musical doesn't use any famous songs. It has an original score by Amanda Green and Tom Kitt.
And that may be another problem, since anybody who loves the Velvet Underground isn't going to rush out to see a show written by the daughter of the man who wrote "Subways Are For Sleeping" (Adolph Green) and the musical director of "An Evening with Mario Cantone."
The problem is, not even women can save you on Broadway. It's old people. Period. Old rich people, and tourists who just want singing and dancing and a familiar, inoffensive, easy to understand storyline. And, for $75-$100 (or three-four hundred for the family) even entertainment isn't good enough. They want to be wow'd.
This is especially bad news, I'm afraid, for the more adventurous (and probably better) new musicals trying to transfer from Off-B'way nonprofit houses to the Great White Way of Tonyland. I'm speaking of Spring Awakening and Grey Gardens, of course. And even the Company revival (which originated at Cincinatti Playhouse in the Park, albeit in an implicitly pre-B'way tryout). These are all quality pieces with some great artistry on display. I'm glad if they reach a wider audience. But look, the only wider audiences they're going to get are likely to be disappointed fun-seekers.
Prediction: All three of these shows will get great reviews (already the case for Gardens) and generate great excitement among the theatre community and even the cherished younger audiences. But this audience will soon exhaust itself (if they can even afford the tickets, that is) within a few months. That is not long enough to recoup the investment of a musical on Broadway today. A true commercial success (i.e. profitable returns) depends on well over a year of continued business, which means pleasing not the critics, not the insiders but the average US consumer who sees Broadway as part of a Vegas-like "entertainment package." You have to fill your theatre with at least 800-900 of those folks every night, and they have to enjoy it so much they tell 800-900 more folks that it's worth $75.
In this context, a recommendation like, "Eh, it was interesting" or "very arty" doesn't cut it any more.
So my prediction--and I know I'm going out on a limb here--is that none of these shows will still be running by, say, Valentine's Day. Does that mean they shouldn't have been done? Not necessarily. I'm glad the actors are getting good paychecks. If the Tonys acknolwedge the better aspects of these shows, then great. If they enlighten just a few audience members on what theatre could be as opposed to what it is, excellent. And hey, what's wrong with a three-month run? Probably as long as a really, really good show has in it.
I'm just saying, there will be a lot of needlessly unhappy investors next spring. Producers being bold and adventurous is a good thing. But I'm sensing there's a fine line in this case between bold and deluded.