As I’ve covered in previous posts, Broadway shows don’t always enjoy the runaway success that The Book of Mormon is currently basking in. In fact, more often than not Broadway shows rely on big-selling summers to prop up what typically are much weaker falls.
But what happens when a show under-performs in the summer?
According to The New York Times, that is a problem that both Sister Act and Priscilla Queen of the Desert have been facing after both shows sold less than the expected number of tickets, as did even the once wildly successful Billy Elliot.
All three hope that a few adjustments — such as changing the advertising and marketing, and, in the case of Billy Elliot, altering the show’s content to remove profanity to make it more “family friendly” — will provide the shows with a few more gallons in the tank. Remarkably, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is even offering a money-back guarantee to groups in the event that group members object to the show’s content (which involves drag queens). Another explanation is that Broadway is coming off one of its most saturated seasons in some time. Garry McQuinn, a producer of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, admits that this saturation has likely heard sales of his shows, explaining, ““There’s a finite number of Broadway ticket buyers, and there’s what feels like a huge number of Broadway shows. Do I wish we hadn’t opened in one of the busiest Broadway seasons ever? Sure. Do I wish we were selling more tickets? Absolutely. But our operating costs are low, and our advance ticket sale is good.”
Of course, for some shows it is already too late: several have already announced that they will be closing by the end of the year, like Catch Me If You Can and Baby It’s You!, which both closed on Sunday. Joining them later this year will be The Addams Family, which enjoyed a nearly two-year run. Catch Me If You Can and Baby It’s You! were far less lucky, both only opening this past April.
Yet things aren’t completely bleak for Broadway: along with The Book of Mormon, How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark are moving tickets very well (the latter defying expectations, thoroughly proving there is no such thing as bad publicity). Even non-traditional Broadway fare — such as the Cirque du Soleil show Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall — is still doing impressive business.
So perhaps with new approaches and less competition shows like Sister Act and Priscilla Queen of the Desert will find new footing. Then again, with traditional New York City holiday shows right around the corner it might already be too late.