Magazine article Variety

Cold Opening, Hot Response

Magazine article Variety

Cold Opening, Hot Response

Article excerpt

IN THE old days, there was one road to Broadway, and it was usually on the road. Producers took a new musical out of town, worked out the kinks in the relative privacy of the regions and then moved into New York with visions of Tony Awards dancing in their heads. Or they could give the project a trial run at an Off Broadway theater in advance of the big leagues. They certainly never opened a show cold on Broadway.

But there are signs that the thinking is changing.

In 2011,"The Book of Mormon" opened cold on Broadway - and became the hit of the season, scoring nine Tonys and packing houses to this day. Last year, "Something Rotten!" skipped a tryout to go directly to Broadway, where it earned 10 Tony noms (and one award) and is still running. This season, two of the five contenders in the all-important new musical category - "School of Rock" and "Shuffle Along" - opened cold.

Is the tryout headed for a fade out? Not quite. But talk to producers around town, and it becomes clear that a number of factors - from rising costs to real-estate scarcity - are shifting the calculus of pre-Broadway runs.

"Taking economics out of it, from a purely developmental perspective, I believe that the best way to open a new musical on Broadway is to start somewhere else," says Joey Parnés, the producer of nominee "Bright Star," the Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical that had two outof-town runs prior to New York. "Now, if you put the money back in: It's a good question. What makes the most sense?"

In Parnés' view, his show's two pre-Broadway runs, one in 2014 at the Old Globe and one last year at the Kennedy Center, afforded creative parties the time, the focus and the experience with audiences to make the show good enough to earn its five Tony nominations. But the Kennedy Center run alone added some $2 million to the show's capitalization.

"That's a big difference," says Parnés of the $11.5 million production. "It was economically difficult to raise that much money. And yet, had we not done Washington, I don't think the show would be nearly as good as it is."

Weighing artistic benefits against rising costs, some producers are exploring new ways to spend the money that would otherwise go toward a regional tryout. Case in point: "School of Rock," which skipped out-of-town in favor of a local developmental workshop and a handful of low-key performances at the Gramercy Theater, a concert venue 20 blocks south of the Broadway box.

That run at the Gramercy cost less than half of the approximately $2 million it would have required to go out of town, according to "School of Rock" executive producer Nina -+ <- Lannan. But in this case, the decision to stay in New York was prompted as much or more by the creative freedom permitted by the lower-tech concert staging. …

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