Five-Year High in '02-'03 B'way Shows Possible

If trends continue, Broadway may enjoy its strongest season, in terms of the number of Tony-eligible productions, in at least five years, given the number of shows already opened and those yet to come.

In addition, the upcoming January introduction of "Tuesdays at 7"--a new industry-sponsored promotion to reschedule Main Stem curtain times for 7 pm on Tuesdays to improve box office--has already brought nearly two-dozen shows on board. Should the promotion succeed in generating better-than-average ticket sales for Tuesday nights, Broadway, which had its second-highest grossing week ever over Thanksgiving, may pull off record sales for the season overall.

By Dec. 31, the 2002-03 season will have seen 21 openings, an unusually high figure for this point in the calendar. This includes: one new play ("Hollywood Arms"); five new musicals ("Amour," "Dance of the Vampires," "Hairspray," "Imaginary Friends," "Movin' Out"); five play revivals ("Dinner at Eight," "Frankie and Johnny," "I'm Not Rappaport," "Medea," "Our Town"); three musical revivals ("The Boys From Syracuse," "Flower Drum Song," "Man of La Mancha"); four solo outings ("Jackie Mason: Prune Danish," "Mandy Patinkin: Celebrating Sondheim," "Robin Williams Live on Broadway," "Say Goodnight Gracie"); and three specialty shows ("Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on Broadway," "La Boheme," "Short Takes on the Universe"). For the record, "Imaginary Friends" is billed as a play with music, and the Tony nomination committee has yet to determine how the piece, which has several songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia, will be classified.

Typically, most Broadway shows open between February and May, with a particularly mad dash in April as the Tony nomination deadline looms. In recent seasons, the highest number of shows to open by the season midpoint was 19, during the 1998-1999 season; the same was true during the 1995-1996 season.

In the meantime, an additional 14 productions appear headed for, or have confirmed, their Broadway openings. This list includes three new plays ("Take Me Out," "Vincent in Brixton," "The Play What I Wrote"); two new musicals ("The Look of Love," "Urban Cowboy"); five play revivals ("A Day in the Death of Joe Egg," "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," "The Miracle Worker," "Tartuffe"); two musical revivals ("Gypsy," "Nine"); and one solo outing ("Laugh Whore"). That's 35 shows in all, assuming no surprises, deletions, or additions.

But this, of course, is Broadway; where the unexpected is often expected. To wit, at least nine productions are circling the Main Stem, looking for berths; three of the most likely are "A Year with Frog and Toad," the well-received Reale Brothers musical; the Michael Greif-directed tuner "Never Gonna Dance"; and a Roundabout revival of Athol Fugard's "Master Harold?and the Boys," replacing the cancelled "Miss Julie" that was originally scheduled. That could push the total to 38, matching the number of productions from last season and the 1998-99 season.

Indeed, should any current productions fold due to the traditional January slump or negative reviews, and should any of the other shows come in--let's place "Enchanted April," "Life x 3," "The Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All," "Paper Doll," "Camille Claudel," and "A Raisin in the Sun" on that list--Broadway's first 40-production season in years could be at hand.

How a 40-Production Season Might Happen

One way to divine the future is to examine which productions have announced houses, and which houses may yet yield a vacancy. Currently, "Take Me Out" is heading for the Walter Kerr, replacing "Proof." "Vincent in Brixton" (see the casting notice in the Late Casting section of this week's issue) is going to the Golden, where "The Goat" is on its last legs, and "The Play What I Wrote" will play the Lyceum, empty since "Morning's at Seven" drew final curtains. "The Look of Love" will occupy the Atkinson (replacing the limited-run "Medea"), while "Urban Cowboy" rides into the Broadhurst when "Into the Woods" closes.

Among play revivals, two Roundabout shows, "Tartuffe" and "Joe Egg," will follow each other into the American Airlines; that company's "Master Harold?" may replace "Our Town" at the Booth; and "Ma Rainey" will reach the Royale now that "Prune Danish" has eaten through its run. Then the musical revivals: "Gypsy" will play the Shubert (sending "Chicago" to the Ambassador); "Nine," the O'Neill. With "Laugh Whore," Mario Cantone's solo show, headed to the Music Box, only "Long Day's Journey," and "The Miracle Worker" have unannounced venues.

Which venues might they be? For one thing, the Cort might soon be free. For the week ending Dec. 1, the Carol Burnett-Carrie Hamilton play, "Hollywood Arms," which received mixed reviews, played to just 25% of capacity; last week, the show improved slightly, to 36.5%. The Longacre, too, might become vacant if box office for "Def Poetry Jam" continues to slacken; after playing to 50.7% of capacity for the week ending Dec. 1, it played to just 37.8% last week. On the other hand, "Say Goodnight Gracie," at the Helen Hayes, may yet stay afloat; the show climbed 16.5% last week to 66.6% of capacity.

And while "Imaginary Friends" reported box office of 42.5% of capacity for the week ending Dec. 1, the show, which opens Dec. 12, has already begun posting encouraging numbers, climbing 17.8% last week to 60.3%. Should the show receive good reviews--and should Swoosie Kurtz-Cherry Jones star power prove saleable--the Barrymore may be occupied at least until Tony time. The verdict, however, is out on "Dance of the Vampires," which this week received a landslide of negative reviews. Still, the show played to 90.2% of capacity last week, an improvement of 10.1% over the previous week. Whether that trend will hold remains to be seen.

From the perspective of the Tony Awards, the previous high in recent years for the number of award-eligible productions in a season was 39, in 1995-96. Last season--as well as in the 1998-1999 season--the total was 38.

'Tuesdays at 7' Generates Acolytes

After its announcement in the early fall, the new promotion "Tuesdays at 7" looked like a win-win situation for ticket buyers and productions. Traditionally the weakest night of the week in terms of box office and attendance, the promotion was created in light of market research showing that if curtain times were rolled back by, say, an hour, more people would likely attend the theatre, given the time available for patrons to make trains back to the 'burbs.

The Westport Country Playhouse transfer of "Our Town" was the first show to hitch its sails to the idea, beginning last month. Since then, an additional 21 productions have agreed to do the same. The shows are: "Aida," "Beauty and the Beast," "Cabaret," "Chicago," "Dance of the Vampires," "Dinner at Eight," "Flower Drum Song," "42nd Street," "Hollywood Arms," "Les Miserables," "Man of La Mancha," "Medea," "Metamorphoses," "Movin' Out," "Oklahoma!," "Take Me Out," "The Graduate," "The Lion King," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and "Urinetown."

To further promote the initiative, a new website has also been created, www.tuesdaysat7.com. Also offered on the site are various ticket discounts, including a repeat of last year's successful "Season of Savings" promotion, similarly designed to lift up grosses during the slow months of January and February. Indeed, the "Tuesdays at 7" curtain times will apply to the period from Jan. 7 through Mar. 24 of next year.