The end of the summer usually brings with it news of Broadway show closings. So far we've seen On Your Feet!, The Great Comet, Bandstand and Groundhog Day all make their closing announcements. It should be noted that all four of these shows received somewhat favorable to glowing reviews along with Tony nominations and wins. While they are shutting their doors in the coming weeks, one show, however, that did not receive positive reviews or a single Tony nod is still going strong. I'm talking about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The show is still taking in over $1 million a week with houses averaging over 90%. Not bad for a show that was drubbed by virtually every major critic in New York. I cannot downplay that enough. Here are just some of the comments that were published:
"Joyless, shapeless and grating, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a stale Necco wafer of a musical." - David Cote - Time Out New York
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a lesson in what happens when pure imagination sours." - Jesse Green - New York Magazine
"From the moment the curtain raises until the moment it finally drops, there’s a sense that something is missing. Something magical. What the musical really needs is a big gulp of Wonka’s own “Fizzy Lifting Drink.” - Chris Nashawaty - Entertainment Weekly
Ben Brantley of the New York Times wasn't much kinder when he called the show "forgettable" and stated how it demonstrated a "lack of conviction".
Now typically reviews like this would doom a musical into closing within weeks of opening night, but not here. Within two weeks of its opening, Charlie topped $1 million in gross per week where it's stayed ever since.
So how has this musical defied the stigma of bad reviews = early closing? Here are my guesses.
1. It has Big Money Backing
There aren't too many shows on Broadway who can boast having big-time money back their productions. While other shows have to rely on money coming from private investors, Charlie has the backing of Warner Bros, a subsidiary of Time Warner, Inc., which is the 3rd largest entertainment company in the world. It's no coincidence that some of the longest running shows on Broadway are being funded by major corporations. We've seen it with The Lion King(Disney #2 in the world) and Wicked(NBCUniversal/Comcast #1 in the world).
With money like that behind a production, it means bigger budgets and more patience when it comes to providing results.
2. Its Source Material
Popular source material is obviously going to help any musical adaptation and Charlie can attract a large audience. Since its publishing in 1964, the book has sold over 20 million copies in 55 languages. It also doesn't hurt that the book also led to two film adaptations, one beloved and the other...not so much. But with a fanbase that large, they could be coming to see this show for years. For instance, the West End production which also was critically panned, ran for 3 1/2 years.
3. Lack of Competition
While The Lion King, Wicked and Aladdin certainly see their share of younger audiences, there aren't a ton of shows running right now that are marketed directly to children and families. Without a large amount of competition, Charlie has the chance to flourish. Now all of that will change in the coming months when Spongebob Squarepants and Frozen come to town, but for now, Charlie can reap the benefits of being one of the few child-friendly shows on Broadway.
4. It's Not As Bad As They Say
Having seen the show I can say this, it does have its fair share of issues. However, it's still an enjoyable Broadway viewing experience. While adult audiences may not find the songs memorable or the dialogue snappy, their kids aren't going to care. It has an incredibly talented cast and striking visuals. While I had my doubts it would garner a lot of Tony nominations, I thought it would at least get a couple in the design departments because they're that good.
In an age where influential critics can close shows as quickly as they open, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is proving them all wrong and there are no signs it's going to close anytime soon.