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In what has proven to be a brutal late spring and early summer for New York’s top-tier commercial theater industry, Broadway has claimed another early casualty. Despite predominantly rave reviews, the revival of Terrence McNally’s 1987 two-character romantic drama, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, starring Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon in the title roles, will play its final performance on July 28, one month ahead of schedule.
Directed by Arin Arbus, the limited engagement was planned to continue through Aug. 25 at the Broadhurst Theatre. But business has remained soft throughout the 10 weeks of its run to date, reaching just 20 percent of its gross potential in the week that wrapped Sunday, with attendance at 49 percent of capacity. Cumulative box office stands at a modest $2.6 million.
The play began previews May 4 ahead of a May 30 official opening, which possibly came too soon after the crunch of April openings and the attention around the Tony Awards. Shows in the running for those honors tend to suck up all the theatergoing oxygen in the surrounding weeks. Frankie and Johnny opened after the cutoff point for 2018-19 season consideration, making it eligible for next year’s Tonys.
Six-time Tony winner McDonald and Oscar and Tony nominee Shannon both have strong marquee names, but the show nonetheless failed to catch fire at the box office despite the raw emotional force of the performances and the depth of McNally’s insights into the need for human connection. The production is the first in Broadway history to credit an intimacy director, Claire Warden, to stage its candid scenes of sex and nudity.
“We are all very proud of the work that Audra, Michael, Arin, Terrence, Claire and the rest of the company have done to bring this new Broadway production to life,” lead producers Hunter Arnold, Debbie Bisno and Tom Kirdahy said Monday in a statement. “There is so much for us to celebrate: Arin’s Broadway debut; Terrence’s 80th birthday year — including a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award; and Claire’s work as the first intimacy director on Broadway.”
The production will have played 26 previews and 70 regular performances by the time it closes, likely losing the entirety of its reported capitalization of up to $4.1 million.
The closing announcement comes on the heels of similar early exits for other limited-engagement plays in recent weeks. The nontraditional King Lear revival headlined by Glenda Jackson; Taylor Mac’s Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, starring Nathan Lane; and Lucas Hnath’s Hillary and Clinton, which paired Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow as the political power couple, all pulled the plug a month or more ahead of schedule due to slow sales.
A string of musicals from the 2018-19 season also have set August closing dates without going into profit, among them Pretty Woman, King Kong, The Prom, Be More Chill and The Cher Show.
While the commercial disappointment of Frankie and Johnny kicks off the 2019-20 season on a worrying note, the outlook appears brighter for the second major opening of the new season: Moulin Rouge! The Musical.
That production has been playing to capacity houses and a high average ticket price since it began previews June 28, last week grossing a hefty $1.3 million with just five performances. However, with a reported capitalization of $28 million, the show will need to sustain that business over the long haul in order to recoup. It officially opens July 25 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
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