British actress Rebecca Hall, of 2013's Disney-Marvel
superhero blockbuster sequel "Iron Man 3," is appearing on the
New York stage in the 1920s play "Machinal," after making her
Broadway debut in January to critical acclaim.
Multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad" fame
switched from the small screen to the stage to play late U.S.
President Lyndon B. Johnson in "All the Way," which opens on
The same month, James Franco, an Oscar nominee for "127 Hours,"
will begin previews in the Depression-era drama "Of Mice and
Men" with TV's Leighton Meester of "Gossip's Girl."
In April, dual Academy Award winner Denzel Washington ("Training
Day" and "Glory') will open in "A Raisin in the Sun," and Golden
Globe winner Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn") and Alan
Cumming, of TV's "The Good Wife," will appear in a revival of
the Berlin-set musical "Cabaret."
"I don't know any actor who would not want to be on Broadway,"
said Cranston, a multiple Emmy winner for his portrayal of a
meth-making chemistry teacher in "Breaking Bad."
"It is the pinnacle of stage work. It is where the best work
should come together, the best written material, the best
actors, the best directors, the best environment. And the most
courteous and dedicated theatergoers are here," the actor added
in an interview ahead of his Broadway debut.
Jim McCarthy, CEO of the discount tickets company Goldstar, said
actors see a stint on Broadway as a way to bolster their
credibility and to interact with an audience in a more personal
way than they can through television or films.
For producers and backers of shows, a star vehicle can be music
to their ears.
"The combination that really works in a show is when you can
combine the familiar with the novel. The show may be new to
people but the actor is not," said McCarthy, a co-organizer of
the TEDxBroadway 2014 conference that brings together leaders in
entertainment, marketing, tourism and technology to brainstorm
about the future of Broadway.
HOT TICKETS, BIG TAKINGS
Musicals tend to be the top-grossing shows on Broadway. "The
Lion King," which opened on Broadway in 1997, was the No. 1
attraction in 2013, bringing in $97 million, according to
figures compiled by the Broadway League, the national
association for the Broadway theater industry.
"Wicked," which has been running since 2003, and "The Book of
Mormon" on Broadway since 2011, were also big earners.
But dramas, particularly those with top stars, also attracted
large audiences. "Betrayal," starring James Bond's Daniel Craig
and his real-life wife, 2006's best-supporting Oscar winner
Rachel Weisz, for "The Constant Gardener" in the Harold Pinter
marital drama, was one of the hottest tickets when it opened
[to top of second column]
The play set a box office record in its first week taking in
more than $1.1 million for seven performances and was the
second-highest grossing non-musical, pulling in $17.5 million
during its 14-week run.
"Lucky Guy," the play by the late Nora Ephron in which dual best
actor Oscar winner Tom Hanks made his Broadway debut and earned a
Tony nomination, brought in $22.9 million after an 18-week run.
"From a producer's point of view, when you have a big star in a role
that is right, it is box office gold. It certainly has proven that,"
said Hal Luftig, who produced the 2013 Tony award winning best
musical "Kinky Boots."
Although a star name on the marquee can pull in audiences, Luftig
said it is not a guarantee that a show will be successful.
"'Betrayal' and 'Lucky Guy' were the right fit for the right play,"
he explained. "Ultimately at the end of the day the star has to be
good. What it does do is it creates awareness of the show."
Debbie Bisno, who produced "The Merchant of Venice" with Al Pacino
and "Grace" with Paul Rudd," refers to finding the right play and
the actor to match as creating the "perfect cocktail."
Broadway theaters are competing with other live events such as
concerts to attract audiences and tickets are expensive, so a
Hollywood star could be the deciding factor to see a play.
"There is a certain ingredient that needs to happen now, especially
with plays," said Bisno. "With musicals we often say the musical is
the event, the star. But with theater there has to be something that
makes it a must-see."
Star vehicles tend to be limited-run plays to suit the actors' busy
schedules. Many stars come to Broadway to return to their roots in
theater, to challenge themselves and to work with new people, but
with typically eight shows a week a Broadway run can be grueling.
"The bar has been raised about what is event status, what makes an
event. I think that is a result of both the economy and the amount
and the myriad of choices people have in front of them," she said.
"At the end of the day, you have to have a great product."
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Marguerita Choy)
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