Michael Riedel wrote an article today about the grim state of the Broadway stage.  His argument is tied, not surprisingly, to the recently announced closings of Hairspray, Spamalot, and Spring Awakening.  Each of those shows was expected to run a lot longer than it did.  I’ve seen the first two shows, and think they’re great Broadway works, and it’s a shame to lose them prematurely.  (I’ve still got a Hairspray post sitting around someplace — I’ll post it before they close, I promise.)  I haven’t seen Spring Awakening, but I’ll find a way to sneak into it before it’s gone too.  Even so, each of these shows have had respectable runs, if shorter than hoped (although even there, I’d say each of these shows did a bit better than might have been originally expected).

Riedel also cites three shows (13, Boeing Boeing, and A Tale of Two Cities — see what I did with that title?) as being “in the quicksand,” finding themselves in danger of closing soon.  As a point of fact, I’ll just mention that none of those three could have been considered sure things at any point in their runs or development by any stretch of the imagination.  Boeing Boeing might even have overperformed, thanks to its Tony win; it has recouped its investment and is sending out a tour.  The other two shows were each trying to capitalize on existing monster hits (High School Musical and Les Miserables, respectively), at least in terms of perception, and I wouldn’t consider it a shock or an aberration for either to close quickly.

The situation is bad, yes.  Money is tight all around.  Broadway costs are high (I mean the costs of putting a show together, not tickets — although that’s applicable too).  Broadway audiences tend to come from out of town — so what happens when the US economy tanks?  There are lots of concerns, for sure, and we haven’t seen the worst of the crisis.

But.

Riedel says: “New shows will be arriving in the spring – “Hair” will go to the Shubert – but there’s very little on the horizon that looks like a “Wicked”-size smash.”  I’m not so sure.  Take a look at what’s opening this season:

9 to 5 — Certainly not a guaranteed hit, but a Dolly Parton score, a good cast including Allison Janney, and a woman-centric storyline.

American Buffalo — Mamet with stars.  Stars that appeal to different ethnic groups — Leguizamo and Cedric will drive tickets for sure.   Open-ended run, meaning that new stars can slide in and out to keep tickets moving.

Billy Elliot — Juggernaut in London (although I hated it).  Maybe it won’t translate to the US.  Maybe it will.  If it does, it could be a monster.

Shrek — If this isn’t a potential juggernaut, I don’t know what is.  (I resisted the urge to call it a monster hit, but you know.)  Big title, great creative team, big-time Broadway cast.

Vanities — Okay, now this one looks like it could close fast.  No big title, no huge stars, pretty small and low-concept.  Then again…it’s a three character musical (which means it’s a cheap musical), it’s intermissionless (which makes it a fun, quick night at the theater, which should help word of mouth), it’s about women and friendship and nostalgia, and it’s been a hit (in play form) everywhere it’s been before.  If this was an NFL fantasy draft, this would be your sleeper RB pick.

Waiting for Godot: Limited time JUG GER NAUT.  Nathan Lane in Beckett?  This could be the not-for-profit event of the year.  And as I mentioned before, Bill Irwin is the really exciting part of this whole project.  This will be a huge hit for the few months it’s up.

West Side Story — MONSTER.  There’s no guarantee, of course; the last Broadway revival was in 1980 and ran for only 333 performances.  But it’s West Side Story, for god’s sake.  I just hope that it and In The Heights can coexist.

You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush — Will Ferrell on Broadway.  Playing W.  Limited run.  Spamalot will have already closed.  This is THE boy musical of Broadway for those two months.  Anyone who gets me tickets to this wins at life.

And that’s not mentioned Spider-Man, which, truth be told, could be the biggest financial disaster in Broadway history, or could make $300 million and change the way things are done at that scale.  Nor does it take into consideration Godspell, for colored girls…, Brigadoon, or Nice Work If You Can Get It, all of which have technically “postponed” their runs and could pop back onto the radar with open theaters (and an aggressive investor or two).

Nor does it mention any of the Off-Broadway shows that could end up as transfers based on buzz; I’ve heard buzz for Taking Over, Danny Hoch’s genius one-man show (read: Danny Hoch’s genius “cheap” show), and Beau Willimon’s Farragut North (which was originally rumored to open on Broadway with Jake Gyllenhaal.   Who knows what else could pop up?  Last time Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright did a show together at The Public, it moved to Broadway.  They’re working together again on a John Guare play.  Think that’s not a contender?

Nor does it mention the new TKTS booth in Times Square, or the new one in Brooklyn, both of which should help a steady stream of discounters find their ways to the struggling shows.

Yes, I understand that not all of these will hit.  Not all of them will recoup.  Some will flame out spectacularly.  And yes, there’s a lot of star casting involved, and movie remakes, and all the stuff that folks hate about Broadway (although no jukeboxes, interestingly).  And yes, there will be huge financial hits to come, and Broadway will suffer as the rest of the country suffers.  Who knows what will happen to investors?  To audiences?  To the city itself?

But a disaster?  Maybe I’m I’m being a little too Tracy Turnblad enthusiastic/naive, but I don’t see it as a disaster just yet.

(Oh yeah…I forgot Dirty Dancing too.)

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