On Jan. 17, the Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival's Broadway production of On the Town will close. The show will have played 37 previews and 65 performances.
The premature shuttering may amount to the costliest failure in the history of the venerable theatre. Public spokesperson Carol Fineman said the production would lose $6 million, including its original $5 million investment, plus a variety of additional expenses including television commercials.
Since the Public was the sole producer of the George C. Wolfe-directed On the Town , some have speculated as to the repercussions a $6 million bath will have on the downtown non-profit theatre. According to Fineman, the effect will be negligible, with neither the remainder of the Public's season -- which includes upcoming productions of Ellen McLaughlin's Tongue of a Bird and Michael John LaChiusa's delayed musical The Wild Party -- nor the tour of Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk feeling a direct impact. "The institution is extraordinarily healthy," she said. "The success of the Noise/Funk tour will outweigh what we lost on On the Town."
Fineman said the Noise/Funk tour recouped its investment in June 1998 and, so far, the Broadway show and tour combined have reaped a profit of $5 million. The tour is scheduled to run at least through fall 1999.
Furthermore, Fineman put the Public's endowment at $40 million, which she called an "all-time high" for the organization. Meanwhile, others have wondered whether the closing of On the Town might hurry along George C. Wolfe's departure from the Public. For over a year, rumors have had Wolfe relinquishing the helm of the theatre either at the end of this season or next. Fineman stated, however, that Wolfe has no plans to exit.
The Public's board will continue to support Wolfe, by most accounts. "George loved the show and I think he thought he could do it in a fresh way," board vice-president Larry E. Condon told the New York Post (Jan. 14). "It also fit in with our mission, which is to do classic theatre works in a new way." As for naysayers who warned Wolfe that On the Town wouldn't survive Broadway, Condon said "they also said Noise/Funk wouldn't make it on Broadway."
Wolfe, the driving force behind the nonprofit's initiative to revive the 1944 musical comedy in Central Park in 1997 and move it to Broadway in 1998, announced Jan. 12 that the money-losing commercial venture at the Gershwin Theatre would shutter.
In a statement, Wolfe said, "It is with deep regret that On the Town must close this Sunday. We had hoped that with a television commercial and a direct mail campaign, as well as a number of extremely positive reviews, that we would be able to surmount the annual January doldrums on Broadway. This unfortunately was not the case."
On The Town actually jumped to 71.9 percent attendance (from a previous 53.5 percent) during Broadway's record holiday week of Dec. 28 Jan. 3, 1999, but prior to that, attendance generally hovered in the mid 50 percent range. At 1,903 seats, the Gershwin is the largest theatre on Broadway -- and therefore, one of the toughest to succeed in, as Candide and 1776 both recently learned.
Mary Testa, one of the show's stars, commented, at a Jan. 14 panel sponsored by the Drama Desk Association, that the audiences at the Delacorte seemed to enjoy themselves more than those at the Gershwin. "The show was free and people had a better time," she said.
Co-star Lea DeLaria agreed. "There's an aspect to New York audiences that's like this," she said, folding her arms and striking a stubborn pose." They're saying, `Show it to me. Show me what you got.' They can be harsher critics."
Purchased tickets for shows after Jan. 17, 1999 can be returned at point of purchase.