Why do good shows fail on Broadway?

As some of you know, I write a weekly article called Brisa’s Pieces (don’t laugh!!) about the business of theater for the licensing house, Music Theatre International (MTI). They have a fabulous website, and my article there this week struck a chord so I thought I’d share it with you as well…

Have you ever seen a new show on Broadway that you absolutely LOVED only to hear that a month later it has closed? All too often amazing shows have shorter lives than we may feel they deserve. The reality is, to succeed on Broadway a show has to appeal to a massively wide audience and be able to afford to market to that audience for as long as it takes to “catch on.” Even Broadway’s biggest hits were once unknown and it took them months, sometimes years, to build their brand and become the hits they are today.

Look at it this way… On average, a Broadway musical costs $2 million per month to stay open on the Great White Way. Also on average, a show needs to sell approximately 8,000 tickets per week or 32,000 high priced tickets per month to earn the $2 million dollars it needs to pay the bills each month. That’s A LOT of money and tickets.

But good shows should sell lots of tickets right? Well, yes! But it takes a while for positive word of mouth to spread. It’s quite common for a Broadway musical to run for many weeks and even months without actually breaking even. That means that these days, producers have the difficult task of having to raise many millions of dollars over and above the actual production costs to cover months of loss, while at the same time maintaining huge marketing budgets to stay on the radar of new audiences. Add to that the rampant ticket discounts and seasonal fluctuations, and even a great show can find itself in precarious financial straits.

The other part of the equation is making sure the particular show has a wide enough audience for Broadway. Remember that Broadway is called “commercial theater.” That means that Broadway hits have to have wide commercial appeal among an international crowd as well as tourists who may only see one Broadway show in their entire lives. It’s no surprise that they tend to gravitate toward the shows they’ve already heard of, which are the commercial, long-running Broadway standards.

However, just because a particular new show couldn’t rake in two million dollars a month in Times Square, doesn’t mean that same show wouldn’t be a runaway hit with your theater’s audience.

In other words, don’t let a premature Broadway closing fool you. There are many, many amazing shows that didn’t make money on Broadway, but have proven to be huge regional hits. So judge for yourself and your audiences will surely thank you.

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