BIG STARS ON BROADWAY: ARE THEY BIG BOX OFFICE DRAWS?

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Actress Edie Falco arrives at the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on September 16, 2007 in Los Angeles, California.
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FROM VARIETY

NATHAN LANE and MATTHEW BRODERICK were worth every zero in the historic $100,000 per week paycheque that each earned for returning to THE PRODUCERS in 2003.

Since then, many BROADWAY pundits have often assumed that every superstar pockets that sum as well – JULIA ROBERTS in THREE DAYS OF RAIN, DANIEL CRAIG and HUGH JACKMAN in the upcoming A STEADY RAIN and, of course, NATHAN and MATTHEW yet again in the 2005 revival of THE ODD COUPLE.

In almost all cases, even the biggest stars are not guaranteed six figures, but rather a five figure sum plus a percentage of the gross and, following that, a percentage of the profits – if there are any…

In the end, the star’s take can, indeed, dance around that magical $100,000 a week, if not top it.

But there’s a whole other issue of marquee names…

Not just what the stars earn, but what the stars bring in. This past season offered reminders that a big name alone is not enough to guarantee sales. And that stars who appeared in top grossing films sometimes were outshone by actors who are from the pay cable realm.

NATHAN and MATTHEW certainly proved they were worth it with THE ODD COUPLE.

Despite mixed reviews, the play grossed like a musical (in excess of $800,000 a week) and extended its six month run to nine.

JULIA, despite negative reviews, produced sales of more than $12 million for the 12 week run of THREE DAYS OF RAIN, a production that entered the black during is fifth week.

A STEADY RAIN should generate numbers in the same ballpark in a similar size theatre, the only difference being how many tickets get sold at a premium price. Those added dollars could depend on the reviews. Recoupment might take a week or two longer than THREE DAYS OF RAIN since there are two big stars, not one.

DANIEL and HUGH have the added challenge of appearing in a relatively unknown drama about two cops, by a BROADWAY novice KEITH HUFF.

On the strength of JULIA’S name alone, the 2006 Amex ad for THREE DAYS OF RAIN produced $7 million in sales in 48 hours. The Amex ad for A STEADY RAIN brought in $3 million in two days. Was it the recession? Or could JULIA rake in another quick $7 million for her sophomore effort after a disappointing legit debut?

(ELIZABETH TAYLOR, who proved to be box office gold in the 1981 revival of LITTLE FOXES, tanked two years later in PRIVATE LIVES despite the added wattage of her most famous ex husband RICHARD BURTON.)

With the exception of those withheld house/premium seats, A STEADY RAIN can be expected to sell out prior to the show’s first preview on SEPTEMBER 10.

In this case, HUGH’S movie pedigree may impact sales less than his previous Broadway outing, 2003’s THE BOY FROM OZ, which showcased a TONY winning performance that has acquired a legendary patina.

Certainly DANIEL and HUGH, headlining a two hander, can expect to earn more than another accomplished film star by the name of JUDE LAW, who appears alongside 20 other actors in the upcoming HAMLET.

But even amidst a large ensemble, JUDE would do better financially in a commercial production than stars like MATTHEW, LAURA LINNEY or DAVID HYDE PIERCE – who all appeared in nonprofit productions that invoke a favored nations deal where all actors get the same salary: about $2,000 a week.

In its June issue, a VANITY FAIR photo spread proclaimed BROADWAY’S STARRY SEASON – even though most of those moiton picture actors failed to pack them in.

Perhaps their OSCAR gold was insufficiently dazzling. But JANE FONDA, JEREMY IRONS, SUSAN SARANDON and GEOFFREY RUSH headlined box office disappointments with, respectively, 33 VARIATIONS, IMPRESSIONISM and EXIT THE KING.

There’s a crass, often broken box office rule for plays. To find financial success, producers need to fill at least two of the following three slots: stars, good reviews and a popular title.

BLITHE SPIRIT, which recouped one week before closing, failed to deliver raves, but it did have ANGELA LANSBURY and a popular NOEL COWARD title. GOD OF CARNAGE had the reviews and JAMES GANDOLFINI. And before he succumbed to his sushi attack, JEREMY PIVEN sold lots of tickets to SPEED THE PLOW, which was buoyed by good reviews.

If there’s anything new under the sun in the BROADWAY box office sweepstakes, it’s the emergence of the HBO star as a potent legit force.

Thanks to THE SOPRANOS and ENTOURAGE, JAMES and JEREMY mean something to the TV viewer who also purchases theatre tickets. It’s a phenomenom that has been taking shape for a few years now.

Back in August 2002, EDIE FALCO’S name over the title (coupled with STANLEY TUCCI’S presence and some substantially good reviews) immediately pushed the revival of FRANKIE & JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE to the BELASCO THEATER’S gross potential.

A more clear cut example of HBO’s star making power came in the form of SIX FEET UNDER’S MICHAEL C. HALL, where his 2002 appearance in the long running CHICAGO revival caused a huge 32% (or $121,680) uptick there.

Again, it was proof that stars sell, but at least one other ingredient – the reviews or the title – has to be in place.

JULIA was the glittering exception that proves the rule.

She sold tickets regardless.

DANIEL and HUGH look to easily do the same.

How nice for everyone if A STEADY RAIN actually turns out to be good theatre as well…

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