Investing in Cabaret at the August Wilson Theatre this spring might seem like a safe bet, after the success of the Kander & Ebb classic in London and earlier productions in New York.
That’s until you see the price tag: $24.25 million, a record for a Broadway revival.
Broadway Journal reviewed a preliminary budget and recoupment chart for the transfer from the West End, which is being presented by the multinational theater operator and producer Ambassador Theatre Group and U.K.-based Underbelly, which creates shows and festivals. Tony and Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne will reprise his role as Kit Kat Club emcee on Broadway.
Revivals of musicals by John Kander and Fred Ebb have been golden on Broadway, particularly the concert version of Chicago, now in its 27th year; and two Roundabout Theatre Co. engagements of Cabaret. This production, which follows several new musicals into the financial stratosphere, needs to be a smash to repay investors.
Cabaret‘s largest line item is its $9.4 million physical production. That includes millions from investors to transform the August Wilson into a Weimar-era nightclub, designed by Tom Scutt, where the show will be performed for an audience of about 1050. (There’s also a pre-show with actors and musicians interacting with the audience.)
A production spokesman declined to comment for this story or confirm any figures.
For the 2021 premiere, Ambassador Theatre Group paid most of the expense of renovating London’s Playhouse Theatre (where the show’s performed in the round), someone familiar with the production said. As is standard in the industry, backers benefit from the sale of tickets but don’t share in revenue from drinks or food.
The New York production is what’s known as a related-party transaction: ATG is both producer and landlord. It recently bought a majority stake in the August Wilson along with Jujamcyn Theaters’ four other Broadway venues.
One of the busiest players on Broadway, ATG and subsidiary Sonia Friedman Productions are producing four of the 16 plays and musicals opening this season through December: The Shark is Broken, Gutenberg! The Musical!, Merrily We Roll Along and Appropriate (with Second Stage Theater). It’s controlled by Providence Equity Partners, a mammoth private equity manager that buys companies with the eventual aim of reselling them at a profit.
Cabaret must thrive to survive, requiring a weekly $1.2 million at the box office to pay its bills. That’s one of the biggest nuts on Broadway, even more than the time-travel spectacle Back to the Future projected in its recoupment chart. Back to the Future‘s home, the Winter Garden Theatre, has about 50 percent more seats than the reconfigured August Wilson, which will lose about 200 seats in the renovation.
Investing may be most appealing for patrons who prioritize backing a prestigious and artful show (and a leading Tony contender) over return on investment. Rebecca Frecknall’s dark revival won seven Olivier Awards last year in London, including for Redmayne. He’s committed to reprising his role for six months, two people familiar with the production said. ATG and Underbelly haven’t disclosed details about the transfer, including casting.
When it opened in London in 2021, Cabaret got flak on social media for its prices, now as much as £375 (equivalent to about $465, which includes a light three-course meal and champagne). Producers have told investors that the show played to 96 percent occupancy through July, with the highest average ticket price in London.
Broadway seats may be costlier. The average ticket at 110 percent capacity of the August Wilson — i.e. with premium pricing — is projected to be $248. That’s approaching Hamilton in its peak years, when it was charging as much as $849 a ticket.
If Cabaret can command that $248 average and sell out — grossing $2.1 million a week — recoupment will take about a year. (Hamilton, which cost half as much as Cabaret and has low running costs, was distributing profits six months after opening night.)
By selling out with an average ticket of $176 — Sweeney Todd territory — Cabaret‘s recoupment would take closer to two and a half years. With an average ticket of $158 — $1.3 million a week — recoupment would take four and a half years. (Projections in this story are based on recouping $20.9 million, which excludes Cabaret‘s reserves, deposits and advances; and receiving a $3 million state production tax credit, which can take years to get to investors. If the show dips into reserves, recouping may take longer.)
Musical revivals have gotten ever-pricier to produce, but none has approached Cabaret. Sweeney Todd was capitalized at $14.5 million and appears to be on track to recoup later this fall, after about 33 weeks. Hello, Dolly! was capitalized at $16 million in 2017 (about $20 million today) and earned a small profit; last year’s $16.5 million Funny Girl recouped and is expected to make a profit.
Shows that required extensive renovations have a mixed record. Most recently, Here Lies Love, the $22 million disco-themed historical drama around the corner from the August Wilson, is struggling at the box office; whereas Harry Potter appears to be enjoying a long life in ATG’s souped-up Lyric Theatre, after producers trimmed the two-part show to one. But it arrived at considerable expense. In addition to Harry Potter’s $35.5 million capitalization, ATG, which competed against other landlords for the play, spent tens of millions of dollars clearing out and renovating the Lyric, Michael Paulson reported in the New York Times.
Revivals are typically short-lived — Cabaret and Chicago being obvious exceptions. The Roundabout Cabaret revival directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall opened at the Henry Miller’s Theatre in 1998 and ran through 2004. It initially starred Alan Cumming, who stepped in again when the Roundabout revisited the revival in 2014.
Two decades ago, the Roundabout bought its revival’s most recent home, Studio 54. The nonprofit company, with help from the city of New York, paid $22.5 million for the real estate, which looks like a bargain today.