There’s a saying; “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever.” That’s all sweet and everything, but sometimes it doesn’t come back to you because it’s meant to be forever. Sometimes it comes back to you because someone saw an opportunity to make money.
At least, that’s sort of how it feels when closed Broadway shows bring their touring productions back to Broadway for a “limited engagement.” Hair did it last summer; Fela! did it this summer. But box office performance for both runs wasn’t exactly blockbuster.
Fela! originally ran at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre from October 19, 2009 (opening November 23) through January 2, 2011. The show’s capacity percentage held steady around the 70% mark for most of the run, and took in well over 50% of its gross potential. It never recouped, but it was a critical darling and was nominated for Best Musical at the Tonys.
Its four-week summer engagement didn’t go so well. Sure, it was at bigger house than before (the Al Hirschfeld), but only by about 200 seats (or 15%). And while it did solid business during its last week, the numbers aren’t so impressive when you compare the numbers to the show’s original run over the same weeks in 2010.
Yikes. The 2010 version of Fela! wins almost every time.
The 2011 engagement of Hair followed a similar pattern. The original production of the revival ran at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre from March 6, 2009 (opening March 31) to June 27, 2010. A widely popular production, the show recouped in less than six months, and after a 2009 Tony win for Best Revival, was regularly in the million-dollar club at over 100% capacity (based on how many times we saw it, we may be partly responsible). After the original revival cast left for London, grosses and capacity took a dive (lesson: don’t cast American Idols in American Tribal Love Rock Musicals), but it closed its run with a respectable $712,008 gross and 85.3% capacity.
The summer run? Not such a hit. It opened at the massive St. James (more than 1,600 seats!), and had a summer run from July 5, 2011 to September 10, 2011. Its grosses never made it higher than $385,942 and its capacity never higher than 56%. If we compare opening and closing weeks of the summer run to those same weeks in the original, you’ll see just how big that gap was.
So it’s safe to say that limited summer runs aren’t exactly a surefire way to make money, but you can kind of understand the logic here: If shows are touring anyway, and a Broadway house is open, why not? In the meantime, we just make one plea: please don’t let this happen to Memphis. We can’t handle that again.