2012 on Broadway

The 2012 Broadway season brought with it the usual mixed bag of new talent, new shows and offstage drama. Despite a reliance on well known brands, actors and shows, those that dared to dream big were rewarded with huge grosses and Tony accolades. On the other side of the coin, 2012 saw a number of flops, short runs and early closures. As one law suit was finally settled (Taymor Vs Spider Man), another was publicly beginning as Mandalay set alight much earlier than expected.

2012 will be remembered as the year that producers continued to play it safe. Revivals, both musicals and plays, gave the audiences what they wanted: reliable, safe fun. Although a number of risks were taken in casting, stars continued to light up the Great White Way, giving producers hope that their celebrity would draw in the crowds. On the musical front, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were projected to the forefront as their early collaborations both found homes on Broadway once again. First off the mark was the Stratford Festival’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar which transferred to the Neil Simon Theatre where it ran for 116 performances. Josh Young as Judas and Paul Nolan as Jesus were both praised, and despite high accolade by the Lord himself, audiences failed to buy into the radical re-working. Their second offering fared slightly better, relying once again on star potential to send in the crowds. Michael Grandage’s 2006 production of Evita transferred to the Marquis Theatre, marking the first revival of the show on Broadway. Elena Rodgers reprised her London role as the pint-sized diva, but audiences were unwilling to forget the ghost of LuPone and she quickly became theatrical marmite. It was left to the Latino heart-throb Ricky Martin to sell tickets as he took on the role of Che, and as audiences dipped during his holiday period, it became clear that he was the glue holding the production together, commercially at least.

 After some early controversy and a public slighting from Stephen Sondheim, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in a new ‘musical’ version by DuBose Heyward. Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald starred as the ill-fated lovers, and McDonald went on to win her first Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. One of the best revivals of the season was The Roundabout Theatre’s production of Rupert Holmes’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood which starred Stephanie J Block and Chita Rivera. This musical ‘who-dunnit’ once again allowed audiences to decide on the fate of the central characters in an awfully charming, very British way. To round off the year, everyone’s favourite orphan Annie opened at the Palace Theatre, in a new production directed by James Lapine. Despite mixed to positive reviews, the show hasn’t taken off commercially and the prospect looks bleak considering the arrival of next season’s Matilda the Musical which will see these pre-pubescent stars go head to head.

 Revivals of famous plays by American writers was certainly an extended motif on commercial Broadway, beginning with a new production of A Streetcar Named Desire which opened at the Broadhurst Theatre for a limited run. Emily Mann directed this all black revival, but it failed to have the spirit of its forerunner Cat On a Hot Tin Roof of a few seasons ago. Incidentally, Tennessee Williams closed the year as Cat began previews once again at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, this time directed by Rob Ashford, little over 3 years since it was last seen in New York. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? waited slightly longer for a revival, as Steppenwolf brought Albe’s classic play to the Booth Theatre where it remained in the shadows of Kathleen Turner, despite the excellent work by Tracy Letts and Amy Morton as George and Martha. Another safe bet from the popular American catalogue came as Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld, starring Al Pacino after a preview period to rival that of Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark‘s. Despite initial scepticism from critics Pacino was praised but the production criticized – once again the case of a previous production haunting the minds of audiences and critics. Douglas Hodge excited audiences in Cyrano de Bergerac acting as a precursor to his upcoming wacky character which will see him bring Willy Wonka to the London stage in 2013. ‘Downton Abbey’ heartthrob Dan Stevens provided a slightly new lense through which to enjoy a revival of The Heiress at the Walter Kerr Theatre, joined by Jessica Chastain as the dowdy Catherine Sloper.

After a very safe season of revivals, 2012 also brought with it a number of ‘flops’ that failed to grab the attention of either critics or audiences, showing how harsh Broadway can be to those who try to bring something new to the table. Alan Menken’s Leap of Faith was the first musical to fall, despite the composer’s success round the corner with Newsies, for which he went on to win the Tony Award for Best Original Score. Even Raul Esparza couldn’t save the day, and no one had any faith in the production which closed after a mere 20 performances. Faith remained the unsuccessful theme of 2012 as Scandalous the Musical also fared badly, scraping by only 29 performances. Despite Kathie Lee Gifford’s heavy contribution to the show and the vocal power of Carolee Carmello, the show failed to excite audiences or critics, although Hurricane Sandy will always be the ‘official’ reason as to the show’s failure. Plays fared just as badly, with Mamet’s newest offering to the stage The Anarchist scraping less than 20 performances despite the pulling power of Deborah Winger and Patti LuPone. One of the biggest disasters of the year was a new play at the Longacre Theatre The Performers about life in the adult entertainment industry which closed after only 7 shows and a unanimous critical panning. Katie Holmes’s first Broadway appearance after publicly outing, sorry, ousting, husband Tom Cruise enjoyed similar bad luck, closing little more than a month after opening at the Music Box Theatre, leading to a lot of Dead Accounts for the producers. The award for biggest flop of the year however is reserved for the ill-fated Rebecca the Musical which closed before the first preview, prompting much scandal in the national and international press after a key producer fiddled the books by creating a fake investor in the show.

Whilst those new musicals struggled, others rose to the top of the theatrical crop, becoming surprise hits with new audiences. The biggest hit of the season came from an independent Irish film, and went on to win the Tony for Best New Musical among many others. Once was a triumph for minimalism, developing the show’s soundtrack through an ensemble of actor musicians on a stage that featured a working bar. Harvey Fierstein provided the book for another screen-to-stage adaptation as Disney’s flop film Newsies became the surprise hit of the season, transferring from the Papermill Playhouse to the Nederlander Theatre, extending to an open ended run and recouping its full investment within the year. Bring it On: The Musical continued the trend for musicals based on films, transferring in from a regional tour with a ready developed audience in town. The same success couldn’t be said for the Broadway transfer of Ghost the Musical, as the London producers prematurely dragged the show across the pond where it received a critical bashing, and its expensive running costs couldn’t keep the show alive, resulting in both the London and New York productions entering an early grave. Nice Work if You Can Get It brought Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara back to the stage in a Gershwin Juke-Box musical that fell slightly flat, but pleased the blue rinse brigade and become a ‘safe’ option for out-of-towners. Rob McClure brought the Little Tramp to life in the musical biopic Chaplin which transferred after much regional success. Many thought the visually stunning show didn’t go far enough with the story of the silent movie star, and the book has been cited for its premature closing.

The year was rounded off nicely by the arrival of two seasonal delights which played to packed houses over the holiday period. Elf The Musical returned to Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre for a limited run and was later joined by A Christmas Story the Musical at the Lunt-Fontanne featuring a score by Benji Pasek and Joseph Robinette.

The fact that the ever biting, ever critical, (yet highly amusing) Off-Broadway revue Forbidden Broadway returned to town shows that once again Broadway is ready to be mocked. With such a jam packed year there was enough fodder for a reincarnation of this tongue in cheek success, proving that 2012 was another memorable one for the Broadway community.

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