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NEW YORK — Who said Broadway was all about big-name stars and repackaged movies?
Adding to a season that has seen a higher-than-average number of successful plays, the imported double-bill from Shakespeare’s Globe in London of Twelfth Night and Richard III is officially a hit.
Producers on Thursday announced that the all-male stagings, performed in traditional Elizabethan style, have recouped their $3.1 million capitalization costs, just 12 weeks into the 18-week limited Broadway engagement.
The speed with which the plays hit the profit column is particularly noteworthy, given that 250 seats per performance — almost a quarter of the house — are being sold at $25 as part of a ticket-access policy designed to place the show within reach of students and others unable to afford Broadway’s hefty prices. “Theater should be available to all audiences,” commented the producers, led by Sonia Friedman.
Following previews from Oct. 15, the productions officially opened on Nov. 10 at the Belasco Theatre to ecstatic reviews. They have since landed on the 2013 Top 10 lists of theater critics from at least 15 major outlets, among them The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter.
Directed by Tim Carroll, the ensemble casts are headed by two-time Tony Award winner Mark Rylance, who plays Olivia in Twelfth Night and the title character in Richard III. Samuel Barnett (The History Boys) appears as Viola in Twelfth Night and Queen Elizabeth in Richard III, while Stephen Fry makes his Broadway acting debut as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.
In addition to all-male casts performing without amplification, the productions also use period practices such as live music played on Renaissance instruments and a predominance of candlelight, keeping artificial illumination to a minimum.
The plays have grossed $8.5 million to date. They join a robust crop of non-musicals to open in the fall and become hits, including Betrayal, The Glass Menagerie and Billy Crystal‘s 700 Sundays. A second Broadway double bill, starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Harold Pinter‘s No Man’s Land and Samuel Beckett‘s Waiting for Godot, also appears headed toward recoupment before its extended run ends in March.
Producing Shakespeare on Broadway can be tricky. For every star-driven production that draws audiences, like Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice, Jude Law in Hamlet or Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar, others struggle. This season, both Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom and Macbeth with Ethan Hawke have underperformed at the box office.
Twelfth Night and Richard III are scheduled to end their run at the Belasco on Feb. 16.
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