Bradley Cooper's 'Elephant Man' Roars Onto Broadway

Bradley Cooper Oscars Headshot - P 2013
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Bradley Cooper Oscars Headshot - P 2013

Hugh Jackman, Glenn Close and Nathan Lane also are among stars pushing plays to rival musical grosses this fall

The last time Bradley Cooper was on Broadway, in 2006’s Three Days of Rain, the news was all about his co-star Julia Roberts, who made the play an instant sellout despite mixed reviews. But Cooper has since broken through as a major Hollywood name, and the results are evident in the opening-weekend box office of The Elephant Man.

The 1977 Bernard Pomerance play, a passion project that Cooper has pursued since his graduate days at the Actors Studio Drama School, played its first previews at the Booth Theatre over the weekend. 

The play, co-starring Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola, made a stunning $520,087 in just four performances, representing 113 percent of its gross potential. The average ticket price was $163.45, which indicates a high number of premium seats being sold. That figure is beaten only by the $187.25 average paid for musical behemoth The Book of Mormon.

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But Cooper is not the only Hollywood talent stirring up the fall box office on Broadway. Hugh Jackman proved that the stellar opening-weekend sales for his stint in Jez Butterworth’s enigmatic three-character play, The River, were no fluke.

In its first full week of eight preview performances, that production took in $917,008, with an average price of $160.43, setting a new house record at the Circle in the Square Theatre. The result is especially remarkable because the Circle is among Broadway’s smallest houses, with just 696 seats. It’s also notable that as part of an affordable-ticket policy, The River sells 40 seats to every performance at just $35 and another 80 at $95.

Jackman has proven to be a powerhouse draw in the past — in his Tony-winning role in the musical The Boy From Oz; in the cop drama A Steady Rain, in which he starred opposite Daniel Craig; and in his 2011 concert vehicle, Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway. However, The River is considered a far more challenging work, indicating that Jackman’s name on a marquee alone is box-office gold.

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It’s rare for plays on Broadway to chalk up the kind of numbers usually exclusive to hit musicals. But Cooper, Jackman and others this fall are once again demonstrating that star wattage can buck that trend.

The top-earning play of the season to date is the all-star revival of Terrence McNally’s theater-biz comedy, It’s Only a Play. That production, whose cast includes Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint and F. Murray Abraham, just wrapped another dazzling week.

Playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, the comedy grossed $1,375,174, with an average ticket price of $160.95. That placed the entry in the top five for the week, a field usually reserved for musicals. The production has earned a massive $13.6 million in just 11 weeks, recently prompting producers to extend the limited engagement — beyond its original closing date of Jan. 4 — to March 29. However, Lane will leave as planned in January due to a prior commitment, with Martin Short stepping into his role.

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The fall’s other starry blockbuster, playing to 100 percent capacity, is the revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. That production assembles a formidable cast, including Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Lindsay Duncan, Martha Plimpton, Bob Balaban and Clare Higgins.

The play grossed $857,375 in previews last week at the John Golden Theatre, with an average ticket price of $133.63.

And while its cast boasts no marquee names, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time also is contributing significantly to the non-musical haul on Broadway, propelled by must-see reviews and the prestige of its award-winning London launch. The play grossed $895,900 last week at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, pushing its nine-week cumulative total over the $6 million mark.

Other incoming productions of plays featuring major-name stars are likely to bump the season’s tally for non-musicals even higher.

The roster of stars includes Jake Gyllenhaal in Constellations, opening Jan. 13; Larry David in Fish in the Dark, opening March 5; Helen Mirren in The Audience, opening March 8; Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy in Skylight, opening April 2; and Elisabeth Moss in The Heidi Chronicles, opening March 19.