Thursday, April 18, 2013

All in the Timing

Goodbye, Breakfast at Tiffany's.  We hardly knew you.

Here’s a fun bit of theatrical trivia: almost half of the shows eligible for the 2013 Tony Awards will open between March 1st and April 25th (the cutoff date for Tony consideration).  If that seems excessive, well, it is.  But conventional wisdom states that spring shows have a better chance at doing well during awards season, and the fact seems to support that assertion.  In the last twenty years, 63% of the winners for Best Musical, Play, and Revival have opened between February and May, so it makes sense that producers would choose this time of year to launch their productions.  The spring also sees a massive influx of tourists into the NYC area, something that begins in March and doesn’t let up until September, meaning there are a lot of tourist dollars up for grabs.

But there’s a flip side to this entire situation, one most producers seem to willfully ignore.  More shows equals more competition, and unless your show is one of the buzzed about productions with either star power or major awards pedigree, it cannot hope to compete in such a crowded marketplace.  Two shows from late March, the new musical Hands on a Hardbody and the stage adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, have been forced to shutter after less than a month of performances.

Now, I don’t think anyone can honestly claim that they find this news surprising.  In the weeks leading up to the shows’ respective openings, there was a definite air of dismissal among the theatrical press about the merits of both shows.  The idea of any actress tackling an iconic Audrey Hepburn role is dubious at best, and given it to the untested (onstage, at least) Emilia Clarke did little to assuage doubts that Tiffany’s would prove to be a wholly unnecessary adaptation.  Meanwhile the very premise of Hands on a Hardbody is so inherently static – it chronicles a contest where ten Texans attempt to win a truck by keeping their hand on it the longest – many wondered how it could possibly sustain a two hour plus musical. 

And therein lies the problems.  Rather than attempting to launch their shows against highly anticipated productions like Lucky Guy (which has an A-list actor and beloved author to help sell tickets) and Matilda (the latest British import to arrive with a boatload of glowing reviews from the West End), Hardbody and Tiffany’s would likely have lasted much longer had they opened during a slower portion of the Broadway season.  Other parts of the year may not have as many tourists looking to spend money, but there is an entire population of local theatregoers who would love to have new shows to see in, say, January or late August.  I don’t think either show would have been a hit – especially given the lukewarm reviews both shows received – but they might have scored enough additional traffic to run for a few more months.

I have said it before and I will say it again: producers need to consider scheduling their opening nights in months besides October, November, March, and April.  Shows with little buzz and mediocre reviews can do quite well when there is less competition, and the longer a show runs the more time it has to build up good word-of-mouth to counteract any negative press.  Even the most diehard Broadway fan only has a finite amount of time and money, and when presented with as many options as are currently available those fans will have to prioritize.  This is one of the most crowded spring seasons in recent memory, and hopefully producers will learn their lesson from the failures of Hardbody and Tiffany’s and consider spreading things out a bit more next year.

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