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.
Joel Markowitz says
I saw James yesterday and he is a remarkable guy. It didn’t surprise me when I saw the article in the NY Times. These guys are survivors and they are so young and have a lot of new shows ahead of them. With a little more work, Glory Days will be put on in small venues all over the place, and he and Nick will look back at this experience and smile.
NY Times Article: Fleeting Stage Glory-Savored and Survived
Good for these guys! I didn’t see the production at Signature or on Broadway, but I’ve been following the path ever since I saw a reading two years ago at the Public Theatre in New York and I loved it then. I could not be more impressed with the professionalism and determination of these two young men. Keep writing guys! And bravo for holding your heads high
doug poms says
Great article Joel, with good insights. I enjoyed “Glory Days” at Signature and agree it would have made a great tenant at New World Stages where “Altar Boyz” has done so well. I was surprised to see it go directly to Broadway without further work. A lot of people will learn from this experience and those involved with “Glory Days” will surely do other great things.
Jon, I think it’s the price and the fact that it went to Broadway “not ready for prime time.” Personally I adored the show. I saw both readings (the first Signature Open House, then the Fringe Festival) and the full production TWICE. In fact, I tried to see the final performance doing a rush ticket, but the show was completely sold out. Having said that, I don’t think Glory Days is Broadway caliber. It should continue to be performed and refined in readings. I loved some of the songs and think maybe they might get somebody to record them as pop singles. Namely, I love the Glory Days quartet, The Thing About Andy and the Driving song.
As for the bashing of Eric Schaeffer, while I agree that it probably would have been better to decline to offer to take this to Broadway, I heartily applaud his support of this work and being brave enough to put it in The Max. As it turned out, it was a success in the Max. That’s defo something to be proud of!
Jon B says
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people turn on a show once the tide turns. Peter Marks is the perfect example. While not a rave review, the review he initially wrote was filled with praise. Now that it’s on Broadway he wouldn’t go near it with a ten foot pole. What’s the difference between a show on Broadway and a show in Washington DC? Is it the price, the audience? These boys should be applauded for being brave enough to stick to their guns and present the show that they wrote. I saw the show at Signature and thought it was refreshing, smart, and simple. Keep writing guys, you have a true admirer here who thinks that your GLORY DAYS are still to come!
Well written Joel.
My personal view when I saw the Signature production was that it was a really good first draft. I felt that the show had a lot of promise and that with a couple of more workshops it could really be good. The show was in no way ready to be moved as-was to Broadway. Other shows have been taken later and recreated into better longer lives and hopefully at some point, the boys will do so. Rework the show, and start the process again and maybe someday in the future, Glory Days will have a successful reunion on Broadway.
Great article. I really liked the show and am sad to see it close. I hope the guys realize that someday this will just be a footnote in their careers. Keep writing!
Joel, your article hit the nail on the head. I agree that transfering to Broadway was a mistake. It definetely could have had a longer and better life in New York if time had been taken to re-work and revise the show. Then they should have opened Off-Broadway, perhaps at New World Stages like you suggested. I don’t think the careers of Nick and James will be ruined. They’re just starting out, and they’ve proven themselves to be very talented. Rather, I just think that they should look back on this as a very very expensive learning experience.
I couldn’t agree with you more, as soon as I got out of the first preview, I said to my friends, “This show would do a lot better at New World Stages” It was not ready for Broadway at all, it needed major rewrites and workshops. Another theater causality.
callie kimball says
I only hope these guys keep writing. I look back on the first plays I wrote and of course now I would write them differently, just as a few years from now I’ll look back on what I’m writing now and feel the same, I’m sure. As playwrights, we have to be in charge of our product, and not be beguiled into presenting things prematurely. (I’ve even not submitted scripts when they’ve been requested because I know in my heart they’re not ready, they’re not finished.) Lord knows we’ve all had our painful lessons in this business, it’s a shame that these writers had such a public drubbing first time out.
As for the consequences for DC theatre, I’ve been convinced for a while that while the Art of theatre is about risk-taking, the Business of theatre is about as fear-based as it gets. So I’m saying I don’t think there are really any serious consequences.
But then again it’s quite possible that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Saw it at Signatre…
Enjoyed it (didn’t love it, didn’t want to see it again)…
Agreed with the reviews which, as I read them, focused on “great FIRST show by promising young team”, I don’t recall real “raves”…
Was shocked it was moving to Broadway…
Was shocked the cast wasn’t changing…
Was NOT shocked by today’s news.
It is still a great “FIRST” play by a promising young team. If reality television ever develops a “So you think you can write a Broadway Musical”, these guys would have a great shot at winning the prize.
Until then, listen to Joel!
C. J. says
Two things that I find particularly sad regarding this situation:
1) Glory Days will stand forever as an example of a producer/s who “took a chance” and lost their shirts on new talent and probably prevent others from doing the same in the future, or at least make them think twice.
2) If the show had been strengthened prior to the opening on Broadway, it still might not have been a huge hit, but would have certainly improved its chances for a life in regional theatre and schools. Now it will just be known as one of the biggest flops ever.
I feel bad for all the young talent who may have been lured too soon to the “Bright Lights/Big City”, but I am sure they will bounce back.
Joel- Great article. I know you have been a huge supporter of thiz show and all of DC theatre. I didn’t particularly like it when I saw it at Signature and was shocked by the move (especially when many seats were empty when I saw it), but it is a shame that this NY move could end up doing more harm than good.
Ivan Davila says
This is sad news indeed, but I have to agree with you: the show simply wasn’t ready for Broadway. I loved the performances — the 4 young & talented actors gave it their all! But ultimately, the story was simply not compelling (and was I the only one who thought Generation X sounded like something out of ‘Rent’?). Joel, let’s hope producers and directors heed your advice — well said!!
I agree with your points above. I was less than thrilled, and disappointed after the glowing reviews, when I saw the show at Signature. I attributed some of it at the time to poor blocking for my terrible seat location, yet I was very surprised to hear it was moving directly to Broadway – no way did I consider it Broadway-caliber, and hoped it meant that much tweaking would be done to strengthen the show. Alas, it sounds like very little, if anything, was changed in the rush to open. I did love the talent and enthusiasm of all the young folks involved. I hope this becomes just part of a large learning curve they maneuver from and move forward with their very bright futures; by no means should this be a dead-end for Blaemire and Gardiner et al. But I do fear moving this particular show in its underdeveloped state misrepresents to NYC the true quality of the DC theater scene.
I wholeheartedly agree with this post and would like to also underscore the importance of the last three bullet points made to D.C. theatre critics. I greatly fear that occurances such as this will slowly ruin the progress that, I believe, Washington Theatre was making towards becoming a truly reputable and respected pre-Broadway theatre scene like Chicago. Thank you Joel for all that you do and for keeping us posted with the entire D.C. Scene.