By Christine Paluf
“The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ successful, satirical look at Broadway, uses the medium to raise the question of what makes a play flop. Try as they did, the two main characters, aiming to create a true failure with their play so as to keep investors’ cash, were unable to guarantee a dud.
It’s an interesting quandary. As one begins to review the list of quick failures, it’s guess work for sure trying to determine what will shine under the lights of Broadway and what will be left in the dark.
Many times, a successful book or movie is taken to the stage, and often succeeds. Add a big star, and you’d think you’d have the prescription for an instant hit. But often it doesn’t.
Take “Wicked,” for example. The number one selling theatre ticket for weeks running according to TicketNews.com, the adapted Gregory Maguire novel gives us the back-story of the witches of Oz. Its themes of friendship, courage against oppression and living with marginalization strike a chord with theater-goers of all ages.
Another show that’s a success with theater-goers is “The Color Purple.” Though critics have declared the show a failure in many regards, it still stays at the top of ticket sale lists. Fans of the novel by Alice Walker have flocked to the performance, in spite of the poor reviews.
Why “The Color Purple” succeeded can possibly be attributed to good, old-fashioned promotion. With television’s highest-paid female giving her stamp of approval, the play could have survived based on Oprah’s viewing audience alone.
Then again, other hit novels have failed on the stage. Steven King’s “Carrie” saw success in book sales and as a movie as well. Once it hit Broadway, it closed in a single night.
Successful screen actors don’t always translate to box office sales, either. Julia Roberts, the silver screen’s highest paid actress, commands upwards of $20 million per flic, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Yet her involvement in “Three Days of Rain” left audiences wondering what happened.
The failure of the recent revival of “The Odd Couple” is a combination of issues.
Starting on Broadway as a play written by Neil Simon in 1965, the play was such a hit that in 1968, it was made into a movie. The movie was such a success, it was turned into a television show in the fall of 1970.
After the success of the Nathan Lane/ Matthew Broderick duo in “The Producers,” the two were cast in the lead roles of “The Odd Couple’s” remake, but this time it didn’t work.
The play is a perfect example of what can happen over time, and how unpredictable audiences can be. It’s not a case of not translating to the stage, “The Odd Couple” started there. The actors in the play were former victors both on film and stage, but failed to raise the play to a platform of success. What happened?
Today’s views of the themes that made “The Odd Couple” so popular, bachelorhood, neurosis and divorce have all changed. None of these things are viewed the same way they were in the 60s, and today’s audiences don’t find the same jokes funny anymore. Without updating the premise of the play, failure was eminent.
Sometimes you can blame the weather. Broadway sees a major slump in January every year, as frigid temps and post-holiday spending slumps keep theater-goers at bay. High-priced airline tickets have caused downturns in ticket sales, as many are out-of-towners. Rising gas prices can be to blame as well.
But those are all things that affect every show, and not an explanation of why one show fails and another succeeds.
Marketing may be the answer. The presentation of a show to potential audiences can make or break sales once it’s released. As Oprah’s seal of approval has proven with the sub-par “The Color Purple,” pushing even a failure the right way can still result in sales.
Andrew Lloyd Webber is a name synonymous with Broadway triumph.
The producers of London’s soon-to-be-released “The Sound of Music” can hope that Lloyd Webber’s name will be enough. However, a traditionally successful anything is not enough these days to guarantee a hit. The producers have aimed at something closer to a guarantee by promoting and raising interest in the play before its release.
Creating a buzz about the show was their first step. Producing an American Idol-esque show to pick the woman who will take the lead, “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria” airs to help invest consumers in the product before it arrives.
Time will tell how it shakes out.