Magazine article Variety

Off Broadway's Secret Formula: Broadway

Magazine article Variety

Off Broadway's Secret Formula: Broadway

Article excerpt

Off Broadway's "Sweeney Todd" has recouped its $1.22 million capitalization in 24 weeks. I'll give you a minute to pick your jaw up off the floor.

Those are staggering numbers for Off Broadway, where "Our Town," the 2009 production that took almost the entirety of its 18-month run to make back a capitalization of $400,000, qualifies as a big success. Though the theater industry regularly laments the demise of commercial Off Broadway, the success of "Sweeney" suggests it's not dead after all.

It's surviving. But it's doing so by behaving a lot more like Broadway.

This scaled-down, environmental "Sweeney," staged in a replica pie shop with a cast of eight and a band of three, has itself made for an unusual success story, starting out as a government-funded production in a tiny pie shop in the South London neighborhood of Tooting. There it won the applause of composer Stephen Sondheim and moved on to a commercial run in a Shaftesbury Avenue venue, provided rent-free by Cameron Mackintosh.

The numbers scaled up considerably for the move to the States, where "Sweeney Todd" is playing at Barrow Street Theatre, the downtown venue ("Our Town," "Buyer & Cellar") that's established a rep as a haven for commercial Off Broadway According to numbers provided by producer Rachel Edwards and exec producer Nate Koch, the weekly running costs for "Sweeney" at Shaftesbury (where, admittedly, they didn't pay rent) were about $11,000. Off Broadway the weekly nut was $68,000 prior to recoupment and $75,000 after.

There are a host of reasons for the increased costs, including tight union regulations and a staff that Edwards estimates is double or triple the staff required in London. Whatever the reason, higher expenses mean higher risk, especially when, like "Sweeney," you've got only 130 seats to sell per performance.

But, says Edwards, "with a title like this, in a small space with an original concept, in a town where everyone loves Sondheim, selling tickets so far hasn't been as difficult as one might imagine."

That's another way of saying that, in addition to the glowing reviews and the press-friendly backstory, this "Sweeney" sells because the title, one of the best-known works by a musical theater legend, has a Broadway imprimatur. And it's succeeded in part due to ticket prices ($135 top, plus $22.50 for pie and mash) that aren't far from Broadway's. …

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