amBroadway | Broadway’s busy summer yields mixed results

OMT_2_1636_Justin Guarini and Company (c) Matthew Murphy
Once Upon a One More Time
Photo: Matthew Murphy

This has been an unusually busy summer for Broadway, with no less than eight new shows. Usually, Broadway openings come to a screeching halt between the end of the spring season and the start of the fall season, but this summer was a mini-season of its own.

These shows fared very differently in terms of critical reception and box office grosses, which brings into question whether next summer will be as bustling in nature.

Grey House: I am still trying to make sense of Levi Holloway’s horror thriller, in which a young couple (Tatiana Maslany and Paul Sparks) gets stranded during a blizzard and takes shelter at a cabin in the woods, which is inhabited by a mysterious family (led by Laurie Metcalf) that seeks vengeance for centuries of violence against women. In spite of intrigue over the storytelling (which led to post-show conversations in which special guests offered their thoughts and theories about the show) and admiration for director Joe Mantello’s sense of showmanship, the show closed early at the end of July.

Once Upon a One More Time: Even as jukebox musicals continue to rain down on Broadway without end, it is important to remember that many of them are not successful, with the latest casualty being this campy and glittery show featuring the pop hits recorded by Britney Spears, which has a flimsy plot built around fairy tale princesses seeking female empowerment thanks to a brief glance at “The Feminine Mystique.” Following bad reviews and weeks of low attendance, it will close on Sept. 3. Nevertheless, multiple songs identified with Britney Spears can still be heard on Broadway at the jukebox musical “& Juliet.”

Just for Us: Following earlier runs Off-Broadway and elsewhere, Alex Edelman, a young Jewish standup comic, came to Broadway with his monologue about the bizarre experience of attending a secret meeting of White Nationalists in Queens. The limited run, which ended last weekend, did unusually strong business, a testament to Edelman’s appeal as a performer in the model of Mike Birbiglia and the power of good word of mouth. 

Here Lies Love: In spite of the demands of creating a 360-degree nightclub environment out of a traditional Broadway theater, objections from the musicians’ union over the use of pre recorded music instead of a live band, and questions over whether it actually glorifies fascism, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s dance-club musical about former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos managed to open on Broadway, a decade after it premiered at the Public Theater, with an all-Filipino cast. It has fared well at the box office in recent weeks but could face difficulties as other new musicals open in the fall and spring. Lea Salonga, a co-producer, also just ended a short stint in a small role. 

The Cottage: Personally, I did not care for Sandy Rustin’s farce, which is modeled after the fluffy English comedies of the early 20th century. The production (which has direction by Jason Alexander and a cast that includes Eric McCormack and Laura Bell Bundy) received mixed reviews and its performance at the box office has been adequate at best. It will likely finish out its limited run through the end of October, after which the play could become popular among amateur theater companies.

Back to the Future: The Musical: In spite of critical disdain, the $23.5 million musical adaptation of the much beloved film (which includes a DeLorean that levitates and rotates in the air) is currently selling out the Winter Garden Theatre, though whether its tourist appeal will last beyond the summer an open question.

The Shark is Broken: Like “The Cottage,” this comedy about the making of the movie “Jaws” (written by and co-starring Ian Shaw, whose father was Robert Shaw, who played the shark hunter Quint in the film) is receiving a limited run that may be aimed at raising the play’s profile so that it gets licensed by other theaters. Though draggy, it makes for lightweight summertime entertainment. 

El Mago Pop: Direct from Barcelona, the illusionist Antonio Díaz is playing Broadway for just over a week. Like Díaz himself, the show will vanish after this weekend, but you can still catch his act on Netflix.