With Doctor Zhivago playing its final performance today, it unfortunately serves as another example of two beliefs I have about the business of Broadway in 2015.
1. Dramatic Musicals for the most part do not work on Broadway anymore.
2. There will never be another Les Misérables.
The first, I tackled in an earlier column, where I, unfortunately but correctly predicted that Doctor Zhivago would be the first to go.
The second however is a mistake that producers keep making over and over again. Since 1987, they have been trying to find the next Les Misérables. What could be the next epic mega-musical based on a classic piece of literature that could play for 20 years? The truth is, there isn't one.
Whether it was A Tale of Two Cities, Jane Erye, Anna Karenina, The Woman in White or Little Women, none of them caught fire on Broadway. Gone With The Wind failed in London. They've been trying to get musicals of The Count of Monte Cristo , Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice off the ground for years.
When are they going to learn? It's not going to happen.
If anything, the Tony Awards are a huge indicator of what is successful on Broadway these days. Since 1987, only three other shows have won for Best Musical whose origianl source material was a piece of literature: A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Phantom of the Opera. Gentleman's won in an otherwise weak year and was based on an obscure novel, if you say you were a fan of the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal before the musical came out, you're a liar. Spider Woman was largely based on the film, which came out 8 years earlier, rather than the novel. And Phantom...well if you don't know why that was a hit, just stop going to theatre all together.
Les Misérables should not have worked as well as it did. It's a long, depressing show with all the dialogue in song. With the exception of maybe 3-4 songs, it's a largely forgettable score and when it premiered, it had a largely unknown cast to American audiences.
But Les Misérables worked at the time for a couple of reasons. The first being there wasn't anything on Broadway like it. They also had the genius that was Cameron Mackintosh. What Macintosh did that was so brilliant was take an excruciatingly long show and turn it into an event, a tourist attraction, something you HAD to do while you were visiting the city.
The problem with 2015 Broadway, is that most shows are like that. Wicked, The Lion King, The Book of Mormon, even right now, Les Misérables, they've become the culture events. To try to break into that category right now is near impossible. I would bet my non existent fortune that if Les Misérables opened as a new show in 2015, it would close within the year.
The public demand on Broadway has changed, today it has to be either something over the top funny or a show where we can see movie stars up close. If you want to produce a dramatic musical based on classic literature with an unknown cast?
Sign a short lease and Good luck.