When Broadway’s “Jersey Boys” closed up shop last January after a nearly 12-year run, fans were thrilled to hear it would soon return — off-Broadway.
But with a smaller stage and budget, would we be getting Frankie Valli and the Three Seasons?
Happily, that’s not the case. All four Seasons are present and accounted for in the production that opened last month at New World Stages, the subterranean performing-arts complex between West 49th and 50th streets. The longtime home to “The Gazillion Bubble Show” has five theaters, one of which has housed “Avenue Q” since 2009. In fact, that R-rated puppet show’s enjoying a longer run off-Broadway than it had on it.
“Small is the new big,” its producer, Kevin McCollum, tells The Post with a laugh. But Broadway economics are no joke: Once a show’s box office falls below a certain amount, theater owners can tell you to move on.
Once a show’s box office falls below a certain amount, theater owners can tell you to move on.
In 2009, six years into its run at the 800-seat Golden Theatre, “Avenue Q” was selling just 350 to 700 tickets per show, McCollum says: “But I just knew it wasn’t time for ‘Avenue Q’ to close.”
There was talk of moving it downtown, where it began, but McCollum wanted to keep his Tony-winning show closer to Broadway. “Since we were sitting on 45th Street, I thought, ‘Why don’t we just cross [Eighth] Avenue and go up three blocks?’”
The move was easy. Not only did the Broadway set fit its new stage, but Actors Equity OK’d a one-third cut in salary, he says. The pit orchestra went from five musicians to four and the crew — 13 strong on union-heavy Broadway — dropped to four. All told, McCollum says, the musical that cost about $350,000 a week to run on Broadway costs less than half that to run off the main stem. Ticket prices dropped, too, from $110 to about $75. That, plus word of mouth, has kept “Avenue Q” alive and kicking.
Granted, not every move works. “Rent” opened on Broadway in 1996 and ran 12 years. At New World Stages, where McCollum moved it in 2011, it lasted 13 months. Then again, it wasn’t the same show: It even stripped Mark, our hero, of his trademark two-tone scarf.
“I think that was our New Coke,” McCollum says, adding that the original production’s still on tour. “I don’t think theaters make shows. Shows make shows!”
“Jersey Boys” director Des McAnuff agrees. He says he and his producers decided to move their show even before it closed. The only question was where.
“Avenue Q,” he says, led them off-Broadway. By November, 10 months after “Jersey Boys” closed, the new production was up and running.
In a way, the sprawling story about the rise, fall and rebirth of the band behind “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and more has come full circle: What started in a 499-seat theater is now playing another 499-seat theater.
The new production — whose average weekday ticket price is $99, as opposed to $147 on Broadway — has four fewer musicians and four fewer actors. Except for the actors playing Valli and his bandmates, most play at least two roles, while one, Jon Hacker, plays a dozen. “He literally gets rounds of applause from the audience,” McAnuff says, “because they recognize him.”
Overall, he says, the smaller theater makes for a more intimate feeling, the sense that “you’ve spent the day with the Four Seasons.” Even so, at a recent performance, it was hard not to miss the brass section that would burst forth during a climactic moment on Broadway or to recall the brilliance of the show’s Tony-winning stars, John Lloyd Young and Christian Hoff, who left the show years ago. Does McAnuff have trouble attracting their successors to play New World Stages?
“I think a lot of actors would rather play a leading role in ‘Jersey Boys’ [here] than a supporting part on Broadway,” he says. “If we’re running in three years — touch wood — ask me again.”