Magazine article Variety

Broadway's Season of Famine and Feast

Magazine article Variety

Broadway's Season of Famine and Feast

Article excerpt

RIALTO REBOUND

The year's uneven output leaves grosses and attendance down, but primes pump for a road bonanza

Judging by numbers alone, the 2012-13 Broadway season was kind of a bummer. Sales and, even more notably, attendance were down.

So why is the nation's network of road presenters so excited?

There are a handful of factors that contributed to the slippage in Rialto numbers last season, but the most important was a backloaded sked. With most of the season taken up by what many observers saw as a largely uninspiring trickle of new product, the dam burst in the spring with a flood of commercially muscular titles including Motown, Kinky Boots, Matilda, Lucky Guy, Cinderella, Pippin and I'll Eat You Last.

It's rare to get so many B.O. standouts from a whole season, much less a couple of months in the spring. And it's a bounty that will benefit the touring biz for years to come.

"The road couldn't be happier," says Colleen Jenni ngs-Roggensack, exec director of ASU Gammage, the arts presenter on the Tempe campus of Arizona State U. The area is one of the country's biggest markets for touring Broadway fare. "For 2014-15 and the season after that, we know we're looking at a lot of great work."

For the most part, road presenters expect these shows to draw crowds at regional venues for the same reasons they're doing so on Broadway. Tuners Kinky Boots and Matilda have the imprimatur of neck-and-neck Tony nominations; Cinderella ana Annie, the only fall opener still on the boards, are familiar properties with built-in all-ages appeal; stock and amateur staple Pippin has a special place in the hearts of legions of legit avids; and Motown, given the international profile of the titular label and its tunes, seemingly sells itself.

It's a stark difference from the fall, when the future wasn't looking so hot. Of open-ended tuners, only A nnie turned heads at the box office, while new titles Chaplin and Scandalous had both shuttered by early January.

"I don't think any of us thought six months ago that we'd have six or seven shows rolling out," says Al Nocciolino, the Broadway League's road vice chair.

The quick closures of the open-ended runs of Chaplin and Scandalous - alongside other of the season's disappointments, including musical Hands on a Hardbody and plays The Performers, Orphans and The Testament of Mary - helped keep the 2012-13 tally of playing weeks, the cumulative total of frames played by each title over the 52-week season, down to 1,430, the lowest number in some 15 years. …

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