2011 on Broadway

In a year dominated by Mormons, Nun’s, Sailors and Pilots the biggest hits on Broadway were once again West End imports. With many new musicals failing to last more than a couple of months, let alone recouping their investment, the trend for British Theatre continued to pick up and was once again reflected in the Tony Awards. Mark Rylance, star of Jerusalem won the Best Actor prize showing that this powerful play which deals with very British issues can cross borders, along with the National Theatre’s well received production of War Horse which transferred to the Vivian Beaumont. It really was a year of peaks and troughs, with the cream rising to the top leaving shows that were expected to do well trailing in the gutters of Schubert Alley.


Revivals seemed an early safe bet as the Roundabout presented a new production of the tried and tested The Importance of Being Earnest which opened at the American Airlines theatre in early January. The production was directed by Brian Bedford who also played the matriarchal Lady Bracknell to wide critical acclaim. By the end of the year however another seemingly safe revival of Noel Coward’s Private Lives (which had found a solid audience in the UK) failed to draw in the crowds despite the magnificent Kim Cattrall leading the cast. A production that had sparkled in the UK directed by Richard Eyre did not pack the same punch and the production closed early at the Music Box Theatre. The Roundabout’s revival of Rattigan’s Man and Boy fared much better, riding on the re-interest in Terrence Rattigan throughout his centenary year in a new production starring Tony Award winner Frank Langella. Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia opened in May at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre where it enjoyed a solid three month run.


Musical revivals ranged from ‘the Broadway Legend’ to ‘the Broadway flop’ as Producers threw every trick in the book at past successful shows in the hope that they would once again rise up to become cash cows on the Great White Way. Some had a better success rate than others, but all relied heavily on star names to attract a new audience, or in one particular case, a very loyal one. One of the first major musical revivals opened at the newly named Stephen Sondheim Theatre as Cole Porter’s tap-happy musical Anything Goes set sail with performances from early April. Starring Broadway belter Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney this production attracted much attention and as predicted she won the Tony for Best Actress. Joel Gray (yes, he is still alive) starred opposite her as the gangster Moonface Martin and with such big personalities literally ‘on board’ it was hard for any of the other lead cast to gain a second of attention. Stephanie J Block boarded the ship for a limited period to cover Foster’s scheduled holiday, redeeming her last nautical outing in the 2006 flop The Pirate Queen.


Over at the Al Hershfeld Theatre all eyes were firmly on the boy wizard to deliver in the lead role of J Pierrepont Finch in a new revival of Frank Loesser’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying which also starred John Larquette. Rob Ashford’s colourful production breathed new life into the show and survived thanks to both Daniel Radcliffe’s mass appeal and the nation’s re-kindled love for 1960’s office attire seen in Mad Men. The most prolific revival of the year came direct from Washington, as Stephen Sondheim’s Follies opened at the Marquis Theatre in September to solid critical acclaim. Bernadette Peters starred as Sally alongside a perfect Jan Maxwell and Ron Raines in this beautiful revival which kept the glamour of the original production alongside a perfect cast. Smug Brit Elaine Paige was finally given some work skulking in the background as an injured Carlotta, but even she managed to deliver a crowd pleasing performance of ‘I’m Still Here’. Despite a good critical response the show was mainly kept alive by die hard fans, but managed to extend well into the New Year.


The new season brought much hope for revivals of Godspell and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever which both were savaged by critics, the former surviving solely on tourists who are familiar with the show from both their Camp and High School Productions. Harry Connick Jnr’s oozing charm didn’t prove good enough to save Michael Mayer’s misguided and arrogant production of On a Clear Day involved an updated book that ruined any integrity the little known musical ever had, placing it around the 50% capacity mark most weeks.


New musicals throughout 2011 ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, as the most unlikely subjects became the season’s tearaway hits. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone teamed up with Avenue Q writer Robert Lopez to produce The Book of Mormon, resulting in an epic 14 Tony Award Nominations. The show became an instant hit with the cast album peaking on the Billboard Charts and tickets becoming as rare as a dinner date between Patti luPone and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show consistently led the Broadway grosses playing to 100% capacity week on week. Hot on its tail was a new musical based on the film Catch Me If You Can which featured a score by Mark Shaiman and Scott Whittman, opening at the Neil Simon Theatre in April. Norbet Leo Butz, Tom Wopatt and Aaron Tevitt led the impressive cast, and despite mediocre reviews the show lasted a mere 170 performances.


The biggest flops of the season included Baby It’s You at the Broadhurst Theatre which managed to stumble through the summer whilst failing to generate any real attention.

Composer Frank Wildhorn’s two attempts on Broadway both ended disastrously with his first offering Wonderland opening in April lasting only a month, and his second attempt Bonnie and Clyde a mere 30 days. Despite a mixed-to-good audience reaction both productions suffered at the hands of New York Critics who were overshadowed by Wildhorn’s previous failures and added the final nail in the coffin. Neither show recouped any of their initial investments, leaving many fans disappointed. Critics praised off-Broadway musical Lysistrata Jones generating enough buzz to get the show transferred to the Walter Kerr Theatre, but it failed to find a distinct fanbase and closed after a brief month.  


The most eagerly anticipated new musical of the year finally opened on June 14 after over 6 months of previews at the Foxwoods Theatre. The Broadway soap opera continued to unfold, with critics breaking their embargoes, actors getting injured mid performance and the Director Julie Taymor suing Producers after she was spectacularly axed from the production. Critics called the show a mess but audiences were intrigued by the growing webs of intrigue proving that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The show became a hot ticket playing to capacity audiences but has to sustain another 4 years in order to recoup its colossal investment.


Two musicals transferred from London’s West End with great prospects but struggled to match the commercial success they had previously enjoyed in the UK. First up was Priscilla Queen of the Desert which opened at the Palace Theatre, providing Broadway audiences will a feel-good night out at the theatre complete with drag queens and a sparkly shoe. Hot on its stiletto heels was Sister Act the Musical which opened at the Broadway Theatre but again failed to match the reception it had enjoyed at the historic London Palladium. London plays fared better overall with the National Theatre’s production of War Horse opening at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in the Lincoln Centre, recapturing the spectacle Londoners have enjoyed over the past five years. The Royal Court’s production of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem gained incredible reviews, again praising Mark Rylance in the lead role of Johnny Rooster Byron. The Mountaintop opened at the Bernard B Jacobs Theatre in September after a previous London engagement bringing the drama of Martin Luther King’s assassination to life.  

Two concert performances delighted Broadway audiences, the first Hugh Jackman on Broadway which ran for a limited 10 week engagement at the Broadhurst Theatre. The show was a sell out sensation, returning the star to New York after his Tony Award Winning performance in The Boy From Oz.  Slightly less main stream was a wonderful concert featuring An Evening with Patti and Mandy at the Barrymore Theatre, reuniting the Evita stars who shared some of their most famous Broadway standards.

All in all it was a busy year on Broadway, with 2012 set to be even more exciting as Andrew Lloyd Webber, George Gershwin and Disney burst back onto the scene…

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