July 20, 2018

Another Harry Potter Landmark: At $68 Million, the Most Expensive Broadway Nonmusical Play Ever

The record-setting $35.5 million capitalization — the amount raised from producers and investors to pay an unusually large cast and crew, rehearse an unusually long show and build an unusually elaborate production — was disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. By comparison, most nonmusical plays on Broadway are between $3 million and $5 million, and even the splashiest musicals rarely top more than $25 million.

But the capitalization is only a portion of what it took to pave the way for “Cursed Child” to get to Broadway.

The Ambassador Theater Group, the British theater giant that operates the Lyric, spent about $23 million to persuade its previous occupant, Cirque du Soleil, to shutter its “Paramour” musical and make way for “Cursed Child,” according to two people with knowledge of the transaction.

Photo
Interior touches include dragon lanterns, a monogrammed carpet with “H” for Hogwarts, and phoenix sconces.

Ambassador, which competed with other Broadway landlords to woo “Cursed Child,” overhauled the Lyric at the behest of the play’s producers. A charmless barn of a theater (previously home to a series of flops, including the $75 million musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”), it was reconfigured to feel more like an old-fashioned opera house, with a vaulted ceiling, a necklace of boxes, and 1,622 seats (down from 1,896). Even the entrance was relocated, from crowded 42nd Street to the less dense 43rd Street.

The work on the building was expected to cost about $10 million, according to documents filed with the New York City Department of Buildings.

The play, a two-part experience with a running time of more than five hours, is a sequel to the series of young adult fantasy novels written by J.K. Rowling about a boy wizard. “Cursed Child” takes place 19 years after the final book, at a time when Harry and his friends have become parents.

“Cursed Child” was written by Jack Thorne, based on a story by Mr. Thorne, Ms. Rowling and the director John Tiffany. It was developed in Britain and has been sold out in London’s West End for 22 months, and last year it won a record nine Olivier awards — the British equivalent of the Tonys — including one for best play. A third production, in Melbourne, Australia, is scheduled to open next year.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

In response to questions about the show’s finances, two of the lead producers, Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, offered a tour of the renovated theater. Strolling through the theater, they showed off phoenix sconces and dragon lanterns and a lobby wall featuring prints of patronuses (silvery animal guardians).

Newsletter Sign Up

Continue reading the main story

The color scheme is rich and dark — most of the walls are painted a color called raven plume — and a custom carpet features H monograms (for Hogwarts, Harry’s alma mater). The newly adorned exterior features giant wings and large sculptures of a child (symbol alert!) trapped in a nest.

“We wanted to create a mood, without crossing a line into theme park,” Mr. Callender said. Ms. Friedman added, “It was really important to us that the lobbies and the front-of-house had the atmosphere of the Harry Potter world, because this is the beginning of the audience’s experience.”

Ms. Friedman, who has been vocal about the high cost of working on Broadway, said that the play has cost significantly more to mount in New York than in London. Labor, marketing and theater rentals all tend to cost more in New York.

Photo
The theater’s interior was dramatically altered to create a more intimate space with fewer seats and more character. Credit Dorothy Hong

“I find the costs here difficult to comprehend,” Ms. Friedman said. “It’s a number I do not like.”

But she also said that particular aspects of “Cursed Child” make it expensive. A play in two parts required twice as much time to rehearse; the show’s elaborate illusions required significant substage mechanics and extra training. It took 16 weeks just to load the show’s set elements into the theater.

Investment documents filed with the New York attorney general’s office offer a rough breakdown of the capitalization, including $11.7 million for the physical production, $7.8 million for “general and administrative” costs, including the design and signage of the facade, $3.4 million for advertising and publicity and $3.2 million for salaries.

That money goes to pay a cast and crew that is much bigger than for most plays. According to Ms. Friedman and Mr. Callender, a shop crew of 220 people was assembled to build and install the scenery and lighting and costumes. The show has 40 actors, a stage crew of 26, some 16 people assigned to wardrobe and hair and 5 stage managers.

“It’s very obvious where the money went — the whole theater has been transformed to fit the show, and the level of technical expertise is like nothing I’ve ever seen on Broadway,” said Jonathon Rosenthal, a 38-year-old I.T. consultant from the Bronx who runs a Harry Potter meet-up group and who saw the play on Broadway earlier this month. “It looks like there is magic going on on the stage.”

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

The Broadway production is already largely sold out through next March, although there are periodic releases of more tickets, including some low-priced ones every Friday. Each part of the show had a recent average ticket price of $164.83 and a top price of $286.50; 300 seats per performance cost $40 or less. The two parts can be seen on the same day or consecutive days.

Among the biggest beneficiaries will be Ms. Rowling. The investment papers do not detail her compensation, but say that the “underlying rights owner, licensor and their affiliates” — a group that includes Ms. Rowling — will initially receive 31 percent of the play’s net profits, and that cut will eventually rise to 41 percent as the show moves deeper into profitability. Ms. Rowling can profit from the play in other ways as well; she is the third lead producer, through her company Harry Potter Theatrical Productions.

Her deal appears to be more lucrative than the ones negotiated by other prose writers whose work was the basis of a Broadway show. Harper Lee, before her death, signed an agreement giving her 2.5 percent of the net profits, plus an author royalty, for a coming stage adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (that money will now go to her estate), while Ron Chernow, the author of a biography of Alexander Hamilton, gets 1 percent of the adjusted grosses from “Hamilton.”

The comparisons, however, are imperfect. Fiction writers generally get a bigger share of profits than do writers of nonfiction, since the novelists actually dream up their characters. And, unlike “Mockingbird,” “Cursed Child” is not adapted from a novel — it is a new story, created for the stage.

Continue reading the main story

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/14/theater/harry-potter-broadway.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Speak Your Mind