Some 20 Broadway shows are likely to close by early February. In January alone, 16 theaters plan to go dark, the most since at least the late 1980s, according to the Broadway League, a trade group.
The axe is scheduled to fall not only on a seasonal show with a limited run such as “Elf,” but on critically acclaimed musicals like “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” Even star-driven revivals such as “A Life in the Theater” with Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight have not been spared.
“Everyone is surprised that it has been such a tough season,” said Tony Ponturo, a producer of “Lombardi.” The drama about the Green Bay Packers coach is the only new fall show currently scheduled still to be running at the end of February. “We’re not on the other side of this economy.”
While Thanksgiving week brought in $2.2 million for “Wicked,” the best week for a show in Broadway history, 10 others saw declines.
“Thanksgiving wasn’t very good compared with other Thanksgivings,” said Martin Markinson, co-owner of the Helen Hayes Theatre. He said many tourists “would rather spend their money on gifts and toys.”
Slow growth, 9.8 percent national unemployment and attendant choosy theatergoing is only part of the picture. Some star-driven shows may not extend, including the top-selling “The Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino. Other departing shows have had profitable multiyear lives, such as “In the Heights” and “Next to Normal” and are simply coming to the end of successful runs.
The flops, which include the adaptation of the Norwegian comedy “Elling” with Brendan Fraser, David Hirson’s “La Bete” and the bleak Kander & Ebb musical “The Scottsboro Boys,” may have failed even in better times.
“The small, quiet musicals are not capturing audiences when there are flashier things to see,” said producer Robyn Goodman, who will present “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” with Robin Williams in the spring.
“Plays have to have big themes and big stars, or be hilariously funny with big stars,” she said. “A musical has to capture people’s imagination enough so that they’ll tell others to see it.”
“Lombardi” is selling tickets through Feb. 20 and may extend sales until at least March, said Ponturo. He and partner Fran Kirmser have been selling it to university alumni groups.
“We’re reaching out to the people we know and the logical community connected with Lombardi, to create group sales,” he said.
The closings will create a bonanza for stagehands, as demand for theaters remains robust. That means more hours for striking sets and moving in new shows.
“If a building sits dark at this point, it would be because there wasn’t a show coming in at that exact time,” said Jordan Roth, President of Jujamcyn Theatres. “Taking a snapshot of a January transition does not get the full picture.”
Comedians will be out in force: in addition to Williams, audiences can expect to see Chris Rock in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “The Motherf*cker with the Hat,” Jim Gaffigan performing alongside Kiefer Sutherland and Chris Noth in Jason Miller’s “That Championship Season,” Ben Stiller in “The House of Blue Leaves” and Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park” behind the musical “The Book of Mormon.”
Other shows include “Catch Me if You Can,” “Sister Act” and that musical for devotees of the arachnid empire currently in previews called “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.”
Musical revivals to watch are “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” starring Daniel Radcliffe, and “Anything Goes” with Sutton Foster.
“The big question is whether the shows coming in have the wherewithal to last,” said Markinson. “You have a heck of a lot of musicals coming in, and that’s what the tourists favor -- unless the musicals are dogs.”