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Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

The summer sun is brightening, and the marquee lights are dimming


Cue Semisonic's "Closing Time." Or Billy Joel's "Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway." Tony season, and all the fervor and glitz that comes with it, has come to a close. We have entered the summer season, and in the theater, this signals the close of many shows as well - often prematurely - if they come away from the ceremony with few or no awards.


The plays, which often have a harder time getting attention than musicals anyway, are usually the first to fall. This year is no different. Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus made its closing announcement only two days after the Tonys and played its final performance five days later. Hillary and Clinton followed, closing June 23rd. Both failed to turn out the ticket sales necessary for them to last until August and July, respectively, as originally planned.


That's not to say musicals are immune. My Fair Lady survived last year's Tony season after losing Best Revival of a Musical to Once On This Island. It has outlasted the winner by six months, but it is now set to close on July 7. And let's not forget The Band's Visit's closing this past April, less than a year after winning 10 of its 11 Tony nominations, including Best Musical.


The 2019 Tonys' first musical casualty was bound to come sooner or later, and June 19 was the day of reckoning. The announcement surprised me less than I wish it would. Without a Best Musical Tony (or any other Tony) to its name, The Prom announced a closing date of August 11. Originally set to run indefinitely, it now won't have lasted a full year on Broadway.


I'm always disappointed to see shows I love close, especially when they do so before I get a chance to see them. I was fortunately able to see The Prom back in January, and I had hoped to go again. Perhaps I'll get to; perhaps I won't. All I know is that I felt incredible, immense joy while watching that show and I thought to myself, "I don't want to let this feeling go. I wish everyone could feel it right now."


What especially stings about The Prom's closing is that it's an original musical. It saddens me to see original musicals falter while movie adaptations and jukebox musicals flourish. I don't mean to pit shows against each other, nor knock adaptations. Many are and have the potential to be excellent (or at least entertaining) shows. However, there deserves to be an equally numerous lineup of original shows alongside them. Hadestown's success is heartening in this respect; it joins the ranks of the recent Come from Away and Dear Evan Hansen in proving that original musicals can still fill the seats and the bank. What makes it less heartening is that its success has now increased at the cost of another fantastic original show. Then again, for all we know, Hadestown could suffer the fate of The Band's Visit. Based on the current demand for tickets, it doesn't look likely, but stranger things have happened.


That said, it will be interesting to see how the jukeboxes - Ain't Too Proud and The Cher Show - fare in the wake of the Tonys. Among the recent glut of biographical jukebox musicals that have made their way in and out of Broadway, Jersey Boys and Beautiful most prominently stand the test of time. I often compare jukebox musicals today to self-serve frozen yogurt chains in 2015: one or two got wildly popular, everyone opened one in the hopes of capitalizing on the success of the first, and then they all folded when no one chain could reap enough business. I always wonder, with each new jukebox opening, if it will be the next Jersey Boys or Beautiful, the 16 Handles that manages to hold up alongside Peachwave. Perhaps Jeremy Pope's angelic vocals and Stephanie J. Block's (two-years-overdue) Tony will keep this season's jukeboxes' momentum going. And perhaps, as glittery and energetic as they are, they will leave through the same door Summer and Motown: The Musical have before them.


The adaptations are interesting cases to watch, too. Having two and zero Tonys, respectively, will we see Tootsie and Beetlejuice fold? Or will enough movie devotees and Broadway fans continue to roll in? Will they adequately compensate for the lack of tourists who flock exclusively to theaters that boast "Best Musical" marquees? I don't have the answers, dear reader. Only time will tell.


Regardless of how you feel about the closing of any given production, there is always a bright side. It is this: as the marquee lights go down on a current show, that only leaves a theater open and ready for another fresh, hopefully phenomenal show to take its place.


Since June 19, Be More Chill announced the end of its own Broadway run, sharing a closing date with The Prom. Despite what the fatally low ticket sales (and critics' reviews) may suggest, its announcement surely left plenty of fans disappointed, too. But the silver lining of any show's closing is that it's never completely gone. We'll still have plenty of The Prom between its national tour, Netflix adaptation, and book. Hillary and Clinton's political resonance and its characters will no doubt be somehow written into history, as will Be More Chill's first-of-its-kind, social media-driven launch to Broadway. And Gary, well - it will surely live on in the memory of its audiences. None of us who saw that raunchy kickline of corpses will forget that image anytime soon.


Author's Edits: On June 25, The Cher Show and King Kong announced August closings. The jukebox/adaptation exit door has opened even sooner than I expected.


On July 17 and 19, respectively, Waitress and Beautiful followed with October and January closing dates. The exodus continues...

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