With Few Hits, a Tough Time for Both On and Off Broadway Theater

It’s a tough time in the theater world. Lots of shows, especially big ticket ensembles from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Bad Cinderella” to “Camelot” all closed early. John Rubinstein’s one man show of “Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground,” is a popular off Broadway hit that has had its run extended several times–at the Off Broadway Theatre at St. Clements–but is now set to close Aug. 20th. Sean Hayes won a Tony for Best Leading Actor for “Good Night Oscar,” but the Broadway version is set to close later this month. Newish shows that are doing well include “Some Like It Hot”, “Six”, and “Sweeney Todd.”

| 08 Aug 2023 | 02:54

Let’s be honest: it is not a pretty time in the theatre world. Regional companies are struggling—in Los Angeles, the city’s most respected stage is suspended, and Ashland, Oregon’s Shakespeare Festival is in dire straits. Here in New York, The Delacorte Theater is closing for nearly two years of renovations. Its modern day adaptation of “Hamlet, which closed its run on Aug. 6th was panned by critics. Its final run before the renovation begins will be the very short run version of The Tempest, from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3. Downtown, The Public Theatre has had major layoffs. Most notably, many big shows are closing ahead of time, dashing the hopes and dreams of those who bravely invest to keep theatre alive. Even Andrew Lloyd Weber was not immune to the post pandemic curse. When “Bad Cinderella”–which had a nice run in London but was panned by critics here– closed after a short run–it meant that the man who had brought us “Phantom of the Opera” which ran for 35 years before closing in April has no shows currently playing on the Great White Way for the first time in nearly 45 years.

He’s not the only legend to stumble lately. “Grey House” has brought down its curtain, qualifying as the first-time bomb of Laurie Metcalf’s Broadway career. This was a horror show of sorts, more fit for a Jamie Lee Curtis onscreen screamer. There were high hopes for the theatrical version of “Life of Pi,” based on a novel that sold over 10 million copies worldwide and won four Academy Awards as a movie and had a stage adaptation that did well in London. But it quietly closed ahead of schedule in New York. Another show that was a hit in London was “Back to The Future.” I confess I walked out at intermission there, and wondered if it was jet lag. Reading the just-up New York reviews, I feel vindicated. We will see if folks’ memories of the movies starring young Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown, will over come the negative notices of the theatrical version. It’s also been a strange season, because so many of the shows that received strong reviews—and Tony awards and nominations—have left us or will be soon. “Camelot” at Lincoln Center, went down ahead of schedule: rare for a Bartlett Sher musical, but the Aaron Sorkin adaptation just didn’t click. Others were in limited runs–“A Doll’s House,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Piano Lesson,” “Leopoldstadt,” “Parade” and “Good Night, Oscar” (the latter ends its Broadway run on Aug. 27th)–which means not enough people got to—or chose to–see them. “Funny Girl,” which, as we know, was literally saved by Lea Michele, will say farewell on Labor Day. Alex Edelman’s one-man piece, “Just For Us,” closes soon after a very short run. My eyes now are on “Shucked,” which saw Alex Newell win Tony award for best featured actor in a musical but is now dependent on discount ticket buyers to fill its seats. I had predicted that it would last about as long as corn season at your farmers’ market, but who knows? I’ve also been watching “Kimberly Akimbo,” which did win a big Tony and seems to be holding on. This despite a somewhat creepy premise—an aging disease—that I wondered if senior ticket buyers would want to see. A new play, “The Cottage,” directed by Jason Alexander, received mixed notices, but says it will stay up till the end of October.

As for “Here Lies Love,” David Byrne’s immersive take on Imelda Marcos? Maybe the fervor of Byrne fans will make this off-to-on Broadway transfer succeed.

Off-Broadway, too, has run hot and cold. John Rubinstein’s turn as Dwight Eisenhower in “Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground,” has been extended several times at the Theatre of St. Clements on W. 46th St., but is now set to close Aug. 20th. “Rock and Roll Man” at the off Broadway New World Stage, starring Constantine Maroulis as legendary disc jockey Alan Freed, got mixed reviews. Despite its ambitions to get to Broadway, it’s being heavily marketed on the discount ticket sites to to fill the seats.

One of the biggest question marks in the Off Broadway community is what will become of the Atlantic’s “Days of Wine and Roses.” That was a hot ticket in a small venue: mostly because of its stars, Kelli O’Hara and Brian D’Arcy James. The assumption was that those two stellar performers would not do a show if there wasn’t Broadway in its future. I am not convinced that there are enough tourists who want to spend two and a half hours watching a couple get drunk.

Bottom line: the main shows that continue to draw audiences are primarily old news: “Wicked,” “Hamilton,” “Lion King,” “MJ,” and ‘Harry Potter.” “Moulin Rouge” and “Hadestown” hang in, but enthusiasm seems to be waning. The trio of newish winners are “Some Like It Hot,” “Six,“ and “Sweeney Todd.” The latter should be alive and well as long as Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford remain. And then there is “A Beautiful Noise” nomination-free, but I believe there are enough Neil Diamond fans to remember those hot August nights. And aren’t we having them right now?