Two acclaimed immersive shows posted closing notices in recent days. One of them ran for years Off-Broadway and became an international phenomenon. The other opened on Broadway over the summer and has struggled at the box office. Both have faced some degree of controversy.
“Sleep No More,” an immersive, non-linear, sensory-based theatrical experience presented over multiple floors of a Chelsea warehouse (renamed the McKittrick Hotel for the occasion), will play its final performance (which will mark its 5,000th performance) on Jan. 28. It will have lasted nearly 13 years and played to over two million attendees.
The show’s producers did not cite a specific reason for closing, but it is likely due to post-pandemic challenges such as rising production costs and unpredictable attendance. “Sleep No More” is a massive undertaking that requires the efforts of numerous performers, technicians, and staff members.
The show, created by the English company Punchdrunk, combines narrative elements of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” with Hitchcockian noir, modern dance, masquerade, and the theatricality of a haunted house. Audience members receive white masks and can either follow around various characters or aimlessly wander around and inspect different settings.
In 2018, Buzzfeed News published a lengthy expose in which former performers in the show alleged that they were subjected to acts of sexual assault by audience members (who remain anonymous thanks to the masks and dark lighting).
Simultaneously, the immersive dance club musical “Here Lies Love,” which has a pop score by David Byrnes and Fatboy Slim and an all-Filipino cast, has announced that it will end its Broadway run on November 26 following 33 previews and 150 regular performances.
“Here Lies Love” meticulously transforms the Broadway Theatre into a 360-degree nightclub while exploring the rise to power of Imelda Marcos, making the equivalent of a disco revamp of “Evita.” As in “Sleep No More,” “Here Lies Love” requires a large open space and audience members willing to stand, move around, and actively participate throughout its duration.
In a statement, the producers of “Here Lies Love” acknowledged that in spite of the show’s artistic achievements, they could not meet commercial realities. “Yes, new ways can work. Artistic excellence can be achieved. But the reality is, succeeding on Broadway means not only producing excellent work with artistic merit––it also means creating the audience for it. And how much time it takes to find and grow new audiences is out of sync with the tight timeframes for audience-building and awareness,” the producers said.
“Here Lies Love” uses prerecorded music rather than a live band or orchestra (allegedly to emphasize the karaoke culture of the Philippines), running counter to union requirements on Broadway stipulating a minimum number of musicians be employed for any musical depending on theater size. During rehearsals, the show’s producers openly feuded with the musicians’ union until they reached a settlement.
The musical has also received criticism over whether its narrative and manner of presentation actually glorifies fascist political leaders. On the other hand, one could argue that its storytelling is as urgent and disturbing as ever thanks to the increasing presence of dictators around the world and the emergence of Bongbong Marcos, the son of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, as the new president of the Philippines.