Critics and their power to close a Broadway show.

Brendan Frasier and Denis O'hare

Wowsa…the Denis O’hare and Brendan Frasier play “Elling” is playing it’s last performance tonight after having only played 9 performances.  That’s a considerably short run.  The producers’ decision to close the show probably came after the almost unanimously bad reviews.

Haven’t seen the show myself, but it definitely irks me as a writer to think that critics have so much bearing on the life of a play.  Is there any other industry where bad reviews have so much power?

Here’s why:

On any given night, somewhere around 65% of the audience of a broadway show is made up of tourists to NYC.  If tourists are going to pay $126.50 to see a broadway show, they want to make sure they’re paying for something they’re going to like.

Ben Brantley, critic for the New York Time. Arguably the most influential ciritc of NYC theatre.

So how do most tourists decide what show to see?  Along with reviews there are: 1) headliners/stars in the show, 2) commercial draw of the show, or 3) recognizable title/property (The Addams Family, The Lion King, etc.).  If people don’t know anything about a show, chances are they’re going take the critic’s word for it.

With Elling, I heard absolutely nothing about this show during or before it’s arrival on broadway…and when you hear absolutely nothing about a show and you work in the theater industry, that’s usually not a good sign.  Though I imagine no talk about a show is definitely better than bad buzz…

But it got me thinking…what are some other notoriously short broadway runs in recent history?

1) Enron – played 9 performances

2) Story of My Life – played 5 performances

3) Brighton Beach Memoirs – the recent revival played 9 performances

4) The Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All – played 1 performance

5) Glorydays – played 1 performance

The last two are somewhat infamous because they essentially opened on the same night that they closed.


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2 Responses to Critics and their power to close a Broadway show.

  1. Esther says:

    Honestly, I don’t think the tourists read up on Ben Brantley’s latest reviews before deciding which show to see. They’re going to see “one” show on their trip to New York. They look for something familiar, something with performers they recognize, something mom and dad can take the kids to see (boys and girls) something they may have heard about because a friend or neighbor or coworker saw it or because a Broadway show made it into the larger cultural buzz. I just think for most tourists (an increasing number of whom come from overseas) Brantley and the other MSM critics are way down on the relevance chain.

  2. Eric Grunin says:

    Elling was on life support when it opened. The producers had no clue how to promote it, so there was no advance and no buzz.

    As a result, their only hope was money notices, which it didn’t deserve. Twenty-four reviews without a single rave tells it all (See ). I liked it better than the Times, but Isherwood’s points were all well taken.

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