At the Broadway Box Office It's 'Hooray for Hollywood'

ByABC News
February 8, 2007, 12:06 PM

Feb. 8, 2007 — -- The cheers that rise from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange whenever the Dow industrial index reaches a new high were matched if not exceeded on Broadway when ticket sales for the last week of 2006 totaled $29.1 million, setting a new record for the highest weekly gross in recorded theatrical history.

The good news did not stop there. Despite the slump that occurs like clockwork when the holidays are over, ticket sales for each of the first three weeks of the new year have been running ahead of last year's sales for the same time frames.

Broadway producers credited their ongoing good fortune to mild winter weather, an increased number of productions and the continued drawing power of four megahits, "Wicked," "Jersey Boys," "Mary Poppins" and "The Lion King."

Therefore, it must break their hearts that in the midst of all the plenty, one of the theater district's most desirable pieces of real estate, the Imperial Theatre, the former home of the Main Stem classics "Dreamgirls," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Annie Get Your Gun," lacked a tenant during the most profitable time of the year (and still does!).

The vacancy occurred when "High Fidelity" gave up the ghost after a desultory one-month run. The musical adaptation of Stephen Frears' motion picture and Nick Hornby's cult novel (movie, novel and musical share the same name) had reaped virtually unanimous critical scorn. Following on the heels of the $10 million flop "The Wedding Singer," the song-and-dance version of the Adam Sandler screen comedy of same name, called it quits after an uninspired nine-month run.

The back-to-back closings prompted renewed questions about the practice of transforming motion pictures written directly for the screen or film adaptations of novels into Broadway musicals.

There is nothing new about the trend. That popular motion pictures can provide clear story lines and ready-made audience appeal makes them ideal for stage adaptation as "The King and I," based on the motion picture and novel "Anna and the King of Siam," and Broadway's 11th-longest running production, "42nd Street," based on Busby Berkley's fabled Depression-era, backstage movie musical of the same name, have clearly demonstrated.

What is new is the startling increase in the number of "movie-made" musicals that continue to populate the Great White Way. Over the 25 years from the advent of "Oklahoma!" (1943) to the arrival of "Hair" (1968) -- the period comprises the golden age of the Broadway musical -- 22 shows were preceded by motion picture versions.

On the other hand, the past six years have seen 16 screen-to-stage transfers, including the current attractions "Grey Gardens," "Mary Poppins," "Spamalot" (based on "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"), "Tarzan," "The Lion King" and "The Color Purple," have set up shop on the Main Stem.

In 1994, Disney Theatrical Productions unwittingly launched -- and subsequently fueled -- the current cycle when it brought "Beauty and the Beast" to Broadway, subsequently followed by the additional trio of film-to-stage successes: "The Lion King," accompanied by the magnificent restoration of the 1902 New Amsterdam Theatre, which provided the cornerstone of the Time Square cleanup; "Tarzan"; and "Mary Poppins," co-produced with Cameron Mackintosh.

Keenly aware that a motion picture has to be reconceived for theatrical presentation, and that the resulting stage work has to stand on its own, transcending comparisons with the original film, Disney Theatrical Productions President Thomas Schumacher took the bold chance of entrusting "The Lion King" to Julie Taymor, the renowned experimental theater veteran versed in mime, Indonesian dance-theater and Japanese shadow puppetry.

The choice paid off brilliantly when Taymor helmed a staggeringly successful artistic and commercial result.

For Disney's next toon-to-tuner adaptation, "The Little Mermaid," based on the 1989 animated movie blockbuster of the same name, Schumacher has made another audacious choice, extending an invitation to the international opera director Francisca Zambello to make her Broadway debut.

An American who grew up in Europe, Zambello launched her American directorial career at the Houston Grand Opera with a 1984 production of Beethoven's "Fidelio." From there, she has gone on to mount operas all over the world, including the world premieres of "An American Tragedy," "Cyrano" and "Les Troyens" at the Metropolitan Opera.

Zambello and her design team are tasked with the mission of creating the magical, underwater universe of Ariel, the beautiful, headstrong 16-year-old little mermaid.

"The Little Mermaid" gives its first performance on July 27 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, Colo. It travels to Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre Nov. 3, with an official opening night scheduled for Dec. 6.

On July 29, two days after the unveiling of "The Little Mermaid" in Denver, "Beauty and the Beast," will conclude its 13-year Main Stem run. At that time, its estimated cumulative Broadway gross will approach $450 million, and its worldwide gross will exceed $1.4 billion.