That subject, boys and girls, is when a major Broadway musical manages to recoup its investment costs and therefore start turning a profit. The reason this topic fascinates me is because it is not a straightforward result of popularity or the length of the run (although those things obviously come into play). Some shows manage to recoup their investment within the space of a year, and others run for years without making back their initial costs.
For example, The Addams Family, that veritable punching bag of the 2009-2010 Broadway season, will be closing this Christmas. By the time it's gone, the show will have run for nearly two years. Furthermore, for the first six months of that run, it did nearly sell-out business and made over $1 million a week. And yet, the show still won't have turned a profit by the time it closes, due to its high initial capitalization and what must amount to high weekly running costs (something tells me Nathan Lane and Bebe Nueworth did not come cheap). Meanwhile, there are shows like the 2009 Hair revival that manage to make back their money in as little as 5 months.
I would argue that moreso than the initial cost, the thing that really makes or breaks a show financially is the weekly running cost. It costs money to pay the actors, musicians, and stagehands, not to mention maintain the props, costumes, and sets while also paying rent on the theatre and the monthly power bill. And since even the biggest theatres can only cram in about 10,000 people during a typical 8 show week, that means a very finite amount of earning potential for even sell-out shows (and this is assuming everyone pays full price for their tickets, which pretty much never happens). If the weekly costs aren't kept in check, your show is going to have a tough time turning a profit even if it runs for years, since they amount to additional money being spent on top of the initial capitalization. It's basically like trying to pay off a credit card while continuing to make charges on it; the more you "charge" in weekly running costs, the longer it will take to pay the balance down to zero.
So in the spirit of this fascinating (to me, anyway) subtopic of the theatrical business, I wanted to play a little guessing game about which of this season's musicals will actually turn a profit and prove financially successful. I'm going to focus on the musicals because they: a) cost more; b) are more likely to be commercial runs instead of not-for-profit productions that aren't actually concerned with making money. So let's take a look at the first 5 musicals opening on Broadway this season, starting with Broadway's other favorite punching bag, Spider-Man.
(Note: This may or may not be an attempt to salvage an article written for a certain nameless website who decided not to run it at the behest of their marketing department, after I had put in a lot of time and energy to write it. Just sayin'.)
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
That's all for now. I hope to make this a recurring article, so look for another installment as we get closer to more show opennings. :-)