(David Smith’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/14; via Pam Green; Photo: KPOP, Almost Famous, Ohio State Murders. Composite: Getty; Handout.)
A slew of well-reviewed productions have closed with poor ticket sales while blockbusters dominate the market
With ineffable talents and six Tony awards, Audra McDonald is box-office gold. But not this time. Not even she could save Ohio State Murders, a play that gave its author, Adrienne Kennedy, her Broadway debut at the age of 91.
“More of her work deserves to be produced commercially, and hopefully this will be the beginning of more and more awareness about who Adrienne Kennedy is, how incredible and poetic and profound and raw and revolutionary her work is,” McDonald said in a video posted on Instagram. “And that there needs to be more work out there centering Black women by Black women in the way that Adrienne has been doing for 70 years.”
Ohio State Murders took a drubbing over the holiday season, bringing in just $311,893 over nine performances in a grand but half-empty James Earl Jones Theatre. The final curtain will come down on Sunday, well before its originally planned closing date of 12 February.
The show is just one among a dozen closing during a brutal January in New York: A Christmas Carol, Almost Famous, Beetlejuice, Death of a Salesman, Into the Woods, The Music Man, The Old Man & the Pool, The Piano Lesson, 1776, A Strange Loop and Topdog/Underdog.
In some cases, the closures were planned; in others, producers apparently did not raise enough money to get through what is always a harsh winter for ticket sales. Last month saw the demise of KPOP, Broadway’s first Korean-centered musical, and Ain’t No Mo’, which was extended by a week after a rearguard action by Jordan E Cooper, the youngest Black American playwright to have a show on Broadway.
Race is perhaps a factor but not the only one as the industry continues to absorb the shockwaves of the coronavirus pandemic. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running show in Broadway history, will close in April after 35 years.
Sam Gold, a director of numerous Broadway productions, says: “We have to acknowledge that it’s a hard time for live theatre. We’re still dealing with fallout from the pandemic. We have challenging supply chain issues. We have the $1tn a month poured into streaming so people can stay home and watch things at home. That got sped up because of the pandemic.
“People just got used to staying home and getting people back out and remembering how amazing live theatre is is taking time. Also people are still suffering and dealing with the trauma of the last few years. People want to think everything’s back to normal but it’s going to take longer for all people to feel normal after two and a half years of tragedy.”