On June 14, producers of Broadway’s Indecent announced the final two weeks of performances. Paula Vogel’s play, which had opened April 18 and won two Tony Awards, would close June 25. What happened next could not have been anticipated: the production saw an immediate and significant uptick in ticket sales, with more than a $100,000 difference from the previous week. This number then doubled the following week. After weeks of consistently low box office numbers, the now-closing Indecent was the hottest ticket around.
Daryl Roth, who is one of the show’s producers, says that the challenge of marketing Indecent—and one of the reasons the show wasn’t an instant financial success on Broadway—is that the play deals with so many subjects and themes. Indecent is inspired by another play (Sholem Asch's God of Vengeance); it’s about immigration, history, homophobia, misogyny, censorship, art, theatre, love, and advocacy. It’s also a play with music. “It’s very hard to describe Indecent…you can’t put it into a little soundbite,” says Roth. “The best thing that sells this show is word of mouth—the experience that people have when they come to the theatre and see this play.” Despite positive reviews, the word of mouth was not “translating into ticket sales” fast enough, says Roth, and her partners had to make the “financially responsible” decision to post a closing notice.
But the week it was scheduled to close, Indecent pulled in its highest ticket sales yet. “Once that [closing] posting was up, you would not have believed it. We sold out like we were the biggest hit on Broadway,” says Roth. She suddenly regretted the decision to close. “I had been so unhappy since posting the notice and I just couldn’t really live with myself because I just wanted this play to be seen by more people,” she explains. “I felt it hadn’t lived its life.” Roth approached her partners and pitched them her plan: give Indecent another six weeks on Broadway and close on August 6 instead. “I’m going to take the risk,” she told them. “I thought to myself: ‘Even if I can’t fill the house for six weeks, I’m going to give it my best shot.’”
Since announcing the new closing date, Indecent has continued to attract audiences; sales are steady and positive. “People have said to me that it’s a gutsy move,” says Roth, “But for me, it was an emotional decision…I am very instinctive about everything I do in the theatre.” Despite coming into theatre producing late in her career—in her 40s—Roth has over 60 Broadway credits to her name. This season alone, she was a producer on Hello, Dolly!, Sunset Boulevard, Groundhog Day, Present Laughter, The Front Page, and Indecent. She’s also been a strong supporter of new works, like the Tony-winning musical Kinky Boots, as well as new plays like The Humans, Fish in the Dark, and An Act of God.
“Some of my choices have been eclectic and strange, but I always go with my instinct,” says Roth. “Everything in theatre is a risk, so there are no guarantees. You have to rely on your gut reaction to some things.” Roth believed in Indecent from the moment she saw the show Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre. She had produced Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning How I Learned to Drive more than 20 years prior, and was eager to see the playwright’s newest work. Indecent moved her and she fell in love with it immediately.
Roth is driven by theatre that is meaningful. While bringing a play to Broadway has long been a risk for commercial producers—especially without a star attached, which is, as Roth says, an “insurance policy”—she refuses to shy away from work that she loves. “Indecent is clearly an ensemble piece but I would never have unraveled that tapestry by replacing any of those actors [and casting a celebrity],” she says.
“Theatre deals in a different currency—the currency being the quality of work,” she continues. “If the quality of work is something that people respond and relate to, then you’ll have it. I don’t know that a businessman would tell you that, but I don’t think the rules are the same for theatre and art in general.”
Indecent was awarded the 2017 Tony Awards for Best Direction (Rebecca Taichman) and Best Lighting Design of a Play (Christopher Akerlind), and was nominated for Best Play. The production is currently running at the Cort Theatre through August 6. For tickets, click here.