There are two things which will make people queue round the block to see a stage production.
Or widespread press coverage saying it is a catastrophe.
I am allegedly a creative consultant to US theater promoter Calvin Wynter’s company Inbrook based in New York.
He phoned me last night. One of the most interesting things he told me were the Broadway box office figures for Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.
Inbrook handled PR and general management services for Spider-man producer David Garfinkle at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and, after that, I had followed the increasingly OTT production stories of Spider-man in the US trade magazines.
You know a show is going to be interesting when the opening line of the New York Post’s review is:
“Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark pulled off a miracle this week: it opened…”
Spider-man took eight years of pre-production, its premiere was postponed five times and, at a reported $65 million (or possibly $75 million), it is the most expensive production in Broadway history. The previous most-expensive-production Shrek only cost half that to stage on Broadway.
Spider-man has 41 cast-members, an 18-strong orchestra, complicated mechanical sets and 27 aerial stunts including a battle over the audience between two characters.
It has music by Bono and the Edge of U2 and it has been described – and indeed promoted – as one of the most technically elaborate Broadway musicals of all time. Which was what caused a lot of the problems in pre-production. That and the soaring budget, cash flow, cast problems and the fact it managed to knock up four accidents in one month.
It reportedly has a weekly running bill of $1 million.
Last week, of the 24 shows on Broadway, only seven grossed over $1 million at the box office. They were:
Wicked - $1,882,731
The Lion King - $1,854,764
Spider-man - $1,811,432
The Book of Mormon - $1,256,830
How to Succeed in Showbusiness - $1,223,226
Mary Poppins - $1,111,911
The Phantom of the Opera - $1,026,795
The previous week, Spider-man also stood in the No 3 position.
Why are people going to see it in droves? Because of the overwhelming publicity.
It’s spectacular, it got varied reviews, but – hey! – it might be a car crash or – literally – someone might fall on top of your head. The one thing it is unlikely to be is dull.
In the UK, I remember stories of the legendarily catastrophic 1980 Old Vic and touring production of Macbeth with Peter O’Toole – tales of rickety sets sometimes falling down, totally OTT blood and Peter O’Toole virtually eating the scenery with his over-acting – It was a show which got worse reviews than the Third Reich… and yet you couldn’t get tickets for it anywhere – I tried to buy tickets to see it in London and Manchester myself – No chance. It was a sell-out.
Stephen Pile wrote: “Eradicating the unnecessarily tragic aspects that have always weighed the play down, the cast sent the first-night audience home rocking with happy laughter.”
The Daily Mail wrote: “It was, of course, the rottenest luck for him (Peter O’Toole) to run smack into a wall on his third bravura exit (so much of the play takes place in the dark).”
The Independent reckoned: “the sheer quantities of stage blood reduced audiences to hysterical giggling”.
The London Evening News claimed Lady Macbeth “greeted her husband by leaping at him and achieving a leg-encircling embrace of the kind which illustrates helpful sex manuals” and that her antics “would have woken the whole castle”.
In an admirably odd interview several years later, Peter O’Toole said: “My nose bleeds as I think of it”.
So, if you are staging a play and want to get lots of bums on seats, either get great reviews, horrendous pre-publicity or truly awful reviews.
All publicity is good publicity.
If you can kill a member of the cast or audience, you will sell out at the box office.
I am still looking for worthy nominees for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.