Tonys: Which Winners Stand to Gain at the Box Office?
The ceremony's top honorees, 'Dear Evan Hansen' and 'Hello, Dolly!,' already are playing to capacity audiences, but a handful of other shows should see a boost in traffic.
How do you translate Tony Awards glory into box-office bounty when you're already selling every seat in the house?
That's the enviable dilemma facing Sunday night's big winners: Dear Evan Hansen, which took home six Tonys including best musical and lead actor in a musical for Ben Platt's shattering performance in the title role; and Hello, Dolly!, which nabbed four awards, including best musical revival and lead actress in a musical for the new queen of Broadway, Bette Midler, who singlehandedly shut down the Radio City Music Hall orchestra with her epic acceptance speech.
Both shows have long been selling at capacity, with Dear Evan Hansen's weekly grosses regularly exceeding $1.2 million, while Hello, Dolly! has been nudging $2 million a week or just over, bolstered by hot-selling premium tickets. Cumulative box office for the shows stands at $33.8 million for Dear Evan Hansen, which has been playing since November, and $24.2 million for Hello, Dolly!, which began performances March 15 and reportedly has advance sales of over $45 million.
So what the Tony haul means is an extended life on Broadway for both shows — particularly if strong replacement stars can be recruited once the contracts of Platt and Midler are up — as well as extra marketing muscle for eventual touring companies.
More immediate benefits stand to be reaped by a handful of other shows in a year in which Tony voters spread the wealth. Traditional industry wisdom maintains that the only prize that translates into a significant boost at the box office is best musical. But with New York City summer temperatures soaring and a retreat into an air-conditioned theater becoming more tempting, the words "Tony Winner" splashed across a marquee are a definite bonus.
Best play winner Oslo, which also picked up a featured actor award for Michael Aronov, stands to make considerable gains. J.T. Rogers' humanistic political drama about the protracted back-channel negotiations behind the 1993 Middle East peace talks is due to wrap its limited Broadway engagement July 16 before transferring to London's National Theatre.
The Lincoln Center Theater production has been averaging around $600,000 for the past six weeks, performing to very respectable houses in the 80-90 percent range. Being the most honored new play of the season is bound to spur undecided theatergoers to check it out before it closes, which likely will result in a late surge in business.
The chief rival of Oslo was Lucas Hnath's provocative and unexpectedly funny Ibsen deconstruction, A Doll's House, Part 2, which went home from the Tonys with a single, though important, award for lead actress Laurie Metcalf's ferocious performance as the defiantly independent Nora Helmer. Dismal business through previews made this look like a commercial non-starter, but superlative reviews across the board and a saturation marketing blitz to grab Tony voters' attention in the past month have boosted grosses, last week topping $500,000 for the first time. That promo push, plus Metcalf's award and steadily building word of mouth, should impact ticket demand for the production, which has extended through Jan. 7 next year.
A bigger question hovers over Paula Vogel's Indecent, which has been struggling at the box office despite positive reviews. The dramatic backstory of a controversial Yiddish drama that was shut down on obscenity charges after a single performance on Broadway in 1923 had fallen off the radar in Tony predictions. But its richly atmospheric staging earned an unexpected Tony for director Rebecca Taichman, as well as for lighting design. Whether that can elevate the production's grosses enough to keep it running remains to be seen.
The fourth best play nominee, Lynn Nottage's Sweat, has also been underperforming at the box office, despite the cachet of winning this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Given its Rust Belt setting and its focus on blue-collar Americans scarred by the decline in domestic manufacturing, it might be a case of too much reality in troubled times when audiences want to escape. The production left the Tony Awards empty-handed, which won't help its ongoing commercial prospects.
The winner for best revival of a play, August Wilson's Jitney, closed earlier in the season, so its Tony is purely another validation for an already lauded production. But acting wins for Kevin Kline in Noel Coward's Present Laughter and Cynthia Nixon in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes should lift sales for both those productions through the remainder of their limited engagements.
As for the other musicals, Come From Away, about the warm welcome given by the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland, to hundreds of passengers from diverted planes in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, scored only a single Tony for director Christopher Ashley. While it was widely seen as the possible dark horse that could snatch the top prize from favorite Dear Evan Hansen, the disappointing Tony night is probably not too troubling for producers. Despite having no stars and an obscure title, the musical has been grossing north of $1 million a week, and is the very definition of a feel-good word-of-mouth hit, so its future seems secure.
One show shut out of the top awards was Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy's extravagantly reimagined 70-page slice of Tolstoy's War and Peace. While the production led the field with 12 nominations, it turned only two of those into victories, both in design categories. But it may arguably have been the biggest winner in terms of its presentation on the CBS telecast, with star Josh Groban leading a dazzling number that conveyed the visceral excitement of director Rachel Chavkin's immersive staging. That performance should sell a lot of tickets.
The Great Comet has been a strong seller at the box office since it began performances last October, topping $1 million a week and totaling $37.4 million to date. But how much of that is driven by Groban's fan base will be clearer once he leaves the production at the end of the month, with Hamilton discovery Okieriete Onaodowan taking his place.
The fourth nominee for best musical, Groundhog Day, finished Tony night as an also-ran, and it remains to be seen whether the production's choice to perform a minor-key romantic song on the telecast will move the dial with sales. However, the well-reviewed adaptation of the beloved Bill Murray screen comedy, starring Tony nominee Andy Karl as curmudgeonly weatherman Phil Connors, has been making steady gains at the box office after an uncertain start, so the production might yet find its feet.
In addition to The Great Comet, the other standout Tonys telecast performance that should generate a sizeable bump in ticket sales was that of Bandstand, an original musical about an American World War II veteran who struggles to fit into his old life until he finds a purpose in a national radio contest. The number showed off director Andy Blankenbuehler's Tony-winning swing-style choreography to exuberant effect, and was given a tremendous boost via an introduction from Jill Biden, who spoke with heartfelt passion about the need to help our returning soldiers find a place in civilian life.
Finally, just to show that some productions don't necessarily need Tony attention to find an audience, the new musicals Anastasia and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, neither of which staged performances on the awards telecast, both cleared $1.1 million last week, continuing to deliver on their promising starts.