We are saturated daily in the media about how many millions of dollars Hollywood movies cost to make. But of course, theatre is a very different beast, isn’t it? Or is it?
In the past two decades, in particular, the public has asked for a more spectacular, visual theatre experience when going to see musicals. Like major motion pictures, Broadway musicals also cost millions of dollars to mount, usually requiring a consortium of investors willing to risk their cash in order to raise the necessary funds to allow a show to see the light of day.
So, if you’ve ever wondered just how much it costs to mount a Broadway musical these days, read on! Here’s last week’s top ten grossing Broadway shows as examples.
Broadway’s No.1 musical, Wicked, opened in October 2003 and was a $14 million investment. It took just 14 months to recoup its initial costs, as by December 2004 the show had made it all back at the box office. In a seminar with one of Wicked’s company managers on a visit to Broadway in March last year, I was told Wicked costs a massive $800,000 a week to run on Broadway. For most of its five year run, Wicked has grossed between $1.2 and $1.3 million each week at the Gershwin Theatre. Last week Wicked grossed $1.8 million. So the initial investment can be risky and the show can be very expensive to maintain, but if the musical is a runaway success, the profits are high, also.
Wicked ain’t going anywhere soon. When I asked how long they intend to run Wicked on Broadway, citing 10 years as a logical example, I was thrown back a reply of 15 to 20 years is more like it. So, if you hadn’t worked it out already, Wicked is now your new Phantom.
It seems Disney have been keeping their cards close to their chest as no one really knows exactly how many millions Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid cost to put on the Broadway stage? Mary Poppins opened in November 2006 and whatever it did cost to put on Broadway, we know one thing for sure: it recouped its costs exactly 12 months later. As for The Little Mermaid, well it just celebrated its one year anniversary, grossing over $60 million and making it the most successful new musical on Broadway in 2008.
Meanwhile, the old Disney stayer, The Lion King, costing who knows what to mount on Broadway initially (edit: now confirmed at $20 million), is now in its 12th year and this week grossed over $1.5 million at the box office.
The Latino-based musical In The Heights began life Off Broadway in 2007 on an investment of $2.5 million. The show then moved to Broadway at a cost of $10 million, last year winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. The show’s producers have just announced In The Heights has recouped its entire Broadway investment 11 months after starting previews last February at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Jersey Boys, the musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, reportedly cost $8 million to bring to Broadway in November 2005. The show apparently made its money back as quickly as the following June, shortly after it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Jersey Boys has consistently grossed over a million dollars each week, since.
Another musical showcasing a music back catalogue, Mamma Mia!, arrived on Broadway in 2001, two years after its London opening. Regardless of mixed reviews, the feelgood show with ABBA songs guaranteed a rollicking good time, resulting in its Broadway company recouping their $10 million investment in just 28 weeks!
The Broadway production of Billy Elliot, which opened in November last year, apparently cost $20 million to stage. Meanwhile the recently opened Shrek The Musical, reportedly cost $25 million, taking the cost of mounting a Broadway musical to a whole new level.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera cost $12 million to bring to Broadway in 1988. Three years ago, The Phantom surpassed Cats to be the longest running musical in the history of Broadway. But it is also the highest grossing musical ever on Broadway, having brought in more that $690 million. The show’s success internationally is truly phenomenal, playing to more than 80 million people in 124 cities and grossing over $5 billion. That figure makes The Phantom of the Opera the most successful enetertainment venture of all time.
Edit: In recent years, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark had an escalating budget in development that continued to spiral out of control. Rumour was the money stopped at around the $30 million mark and U2’s Bono and The Edge (whose musical score is at the heart of the show) chipped in considerable funds of their own just so the musical could see the light of day. By the time the show eventually opened after many false starts and the longest run of previews ever seen on Broadway, the budget had hit $60 million. Before things had settled, the well-publicised budget had reached somewhere between $65 and $70 million, easily making Spider-Man the most expensive stage show in history.
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