By Joel Markowitz
May 8th — Glory Days opened on Tuesday, May 6th. The New York critics unanimously hated it and closing notices were posted on May 7th, making it the first Broadway musical in 23 years to close after opening night.
As many of you know, I have written several articles about Signature Theatre’s production of Glory Days. I recorded an interview with local creators James Gardiner and Nick Blaemire, which is the all-time – most listened to podcast ever recorded by DC Theatre Scene. A lot of people were listening and hoping for the best from the young writers.
When Glory Days opened last January, the show had problems. The reviews were mixed. The audiences dwindled.
When it was announced that Glory Days had a chance to transfer to NY thanks to a small team of NY producers, I was excited, but worried. When Nick and James asked, I submitted 18 suggestions to help improve the book.
With the high price of producing a show in NYC, you rarely get more than one chance to succeed. And when you bring a show to Broadway, it better be in the best shape it can be. But from what everyone tells me – I was scheduled to see the Broadway show today and interview Nick and James – no significant changes were made. Why not?
And why did the producers rush the show to Broadway? How come I saw it coming and all my local theatre going friends saw it coming, and every theatre-goer who saw the previews in NY saw it coming, but the producers and director didn’t see it coming?
Maybe they and their investors honestly loved every moment of the show and thought it was perfection. Look, the horrendous In My Life dragged on for months before finally closing because a foreign investor loved it.
I know the dream of a Broadway hit is enticing with all the big money that comes with it, your name in lights on the Big White Way, walking onstage to accept a Tony, but first your property has to be ready.
I keep hearing Matthew Broderick singing, “I want to be a producer…”
But unlike in The Producers where Bialystock was looking to fail, these real life Glory Days producers hoped for the best but suffered from unsustainably small preview houses, only 42.9% in the first week and half that in the second week, leading to the announcement last night from producers John O’Boyle and Ricky Stevens: “We adore Glory Days and everyone connected with this production. Sadly, given the over-night reviews and our low advance sales, we believe it is prudent to close the show on Broadway immediately.”
So why did everyone rush the show to NY as is? Using logic such as, “Why not? We might get lucky!” is irresponsible and idiotic.
To me, if you are involved in a production, and you honestly know that the show isn’t ready to transfer, and there is a great chance that it won’t sell, you shouldn’t agree to transfer it. Even if producers are willing to put up $2.5 million.
In the Heights – a show I love and believe will win the Tony for Best Musical this year on June 15th – was also written by a young man. Lin-Manuel Miranda is only a few years older than Nick and James, and started writing it as a sophomore in college.
It opened to very good reviews Off-Broadway last year at 37 Arts. After receiving many Off-Broadway awards, it was decided that the show would transfer to Broadway. The producers and creative team closed the show for several months, improving it, and reconfiguring the choreography for the bigger stage, and writing a new song for one of its lead characters before moving it to Broadway.
Where once it was exciting Off-Broadway, In the Heights is now breathtaking and more joyous on Broadway.
Frankly, I was hoping and praying that if Glory Days were to transfer NYC, it would be at New World Stages where shows like Altar Boyz, Naked Boys Singing, The Gazillion Bubble Show and My First Time are playing — all drawing young audiences, the audiences that would have been drawn to Glory Days – where the ticket price would be much less than a Broadway house. I knew that students, who would make up most of Glory Days’ audience, could not afford the $107.00 ticket price (including service charges on telecharge.com) at Circle in the Square – the Broadway theatre where the show landed.
I told both Nick and James and director Eric Schaeffer these thoughts many times. I knew what was coming if they moved it to a Broadway house. I could smell disaster 350 miles away.
Transferring any show to NYC is a big risk and it’s expensive. The NYC critics are not as understanding and patient and generous as our local critics.
To DC critics: Many theatre goers here and in NYC believe that your overly-generous reviews only attributed to the feeling that the show was ready to transfer to NYC and may have hastened its move to Circle in the Square. If you had not given the show a break and used the “these are local boys, and they are young and not bad for the first try,” shtick, could that have prevented last night’s bone crushing reception from the NYC critics?
Would it have forced the writers and director to make some changes and improvements? Maybe not.
Who knows what the answers are, but I have more concerns:
How has this debacle hurt the careers of a young lyricist and composer and librettist who could have great potential?
And how has it hurt the reputation of other new plays being created in Washington? Will it hurt other transfers of DC productions?
Only time will tell.
Here’s what I hope authors and theatre companies will learn from this:
(1) Learn to say, “I’m really honored that you like the show, but it’s not ready to transfer.”
(2) Stop thinking about Tony nomination deadlines, and more about quality…
(3) And workshop a show until it’s in the best shape it can be, so it can be a true representation of what we proudly call Washington Theatre.