What a difference a Tony makes. Joey Parnes, the lead producer of the winner for Best Musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Murder, acknowledged in the press room that before his show received ten Tony nominations it was not faring well at the box office, but “since then we’ve played 37 straight sold-out performances, and with this win, that should continue for a good long time.” Indeed, despite rave reviews, Gentleman’s Guide was struggling to find an audience. With no big name stars above the marquee and no familiar songs written by rock or pop legends, theatergoers were reluctant to plunk down their bucks. The nominations definitely gave the box office a shot in the arm, but a win for Best Musical was not a sure thing.
Several Tony prognosticators including Michael Reidel of the New York Post predicted Beautiful – The Carole King Musical was a safer bet. The reasoning went that touring producers, a significant block of Tony voters, would prefer Beautiful, an uplifting musical bio emphasizing female empowerment and featuring a score of familiar tunes over Gentleman’s Guide, a dark satiric comedy starring a charming serial killer. Guide would probably have to settle for the consolation prizes of Best Book and Best Director. A similar split occurred in 2006 when the nostalgic Jersey Boys won the top prize and the more critically lauded The Drowsy Chaperone took the awards for its score and writing. Boys is still running and the film version is about to open while Chaperone closed after a run of a year and a half.
Now with the Tony stamp of approval and a sample of the show displayed on the awards telecast, Gentleman’s Guide appears to be assured a run of at least several more months. But many other shows will benefit from the national TV exposure. Though Beautiful only won two awards (Best Actress in a Musical and Best Sound Design in a Musical), the emotional duet between the star (Jessie Mueller) and the show’s inspiration, Carole King herself, should draw in many theatergoers who are fans of King’s music.
The evening’s other big winner, Hedwig and the Angry Inch which tied with Gentleman’s Guide for the most Tonys with four, was doing extremely well thanks to Neil Patrick Harris’ fame as a TV star, selling out since it began previews. The show is a limited run through August 17 and the award exposure could prompt an extension depending on Harris’ schedule. Like Hedwig many of the winning straight plays are limited engagements, but they are set to close sooner. A Raisin in the Sun, the biggest non-musical winner with three awards including Best Revival of a Play, is shuttering this Sun., June 15, and was a big draw because of the non-nominated Denzel Washington. However, the show’s Tony success could benefit award-winning director Kenny Leon’s next project, Holler If Ya Hear Me, the Tupac Shakur musical, opening June 19. The revival’s triumph might also lead to more producers willing to risk mounting productions of plays by and featuring African-Americans. All the Way, winner for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play for Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon Baines Jonhson, has already recouped its investment and is set to end its run on June 29. The Tony wins might pave the way for a Broadway run of author Robert Schekkan’s follow-up work, The Great Society, which traces the later years of LBJ’s administration. The new play is now in rehearsals at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
A pair of Tony wins for Score and Orchestrations were too late to save The Bridges of Madison County which closed not long after the announcement of the nominations. Disney’s Aladdin which lost Best Musical, has been nearing capacity and its big Tony number featuring Best Featured Actor James Monroe Iglehart can only increase its receipts. Disney experienced a similar benefit for its first Broadway show Beauty and the Beast. Despite winning only one Tony (for costume design), its number inspired lines around the box office the morning after the TV ceremony. Other new musicals Rocky, Bullets Over Broadway, and After Midnight which have been doing middling business, could also gain from their Tony numbers despite lack of major awards. After Midnight has the added enticement of “special guest stars” such as Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, and Natalie Cole later this summer.