Tony Award contenders often say it’s an honor to be nominated. For Bright Star, like any struggling nominee, it’s an expensive honor.
Instead of potentially folding after ten slow weeks, Joey Parnes, the lead producer of the original Steve Martin and Edie Brickell musical, is betting on the marketing muscle of its five nominations. The production will borrow money to run at least through the Tonys on June 12, he said, as well as to advertise the nominations and stage a number on the CBS telecast. The last expense typically runs in the six figures.
“It’s not a secret that we’ve been having less-than-robust grosses,” Parnes said earlier in the week. “To say we’re an underdog is an understatement.”
As no one expects Bright Star to upset Hamilton for best new musical, its strategy is to make the most of being named among the top five. The production also received nominations for lead actress Carmen Cusack, who New York Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote is making “a simply gorgeous Broadway debut”; the show’s script, by Martin; its score, by Martin and Brickell; and its orchestrations, by August Eriksmoen.
Isherwood wrote that the show, with its bluegrass-inflected score, has brought “a fresh breeze from the South to the spring Broadway season.” Its weekly gross at the Cort has averaged $370,000, according to the Broadway League, a trade association. About 9.5 percent of that, or $35,000 on average, goes to union pension-fund contributions, credit-card processing and other pass-through fees the production doesn’t pocket. Weekly operating expenses, which include actor and musician salaries, and stagehands’ pay, are about $500,000, according to a budget we obtained. Production costs were about $10 million.
Parnes said Bright Star has temporarily reduced expenses, including royalties and rent. He said the production plans to take out a priority loan—which is repaid before money’s distributed to original investors. The lender, he said, will be some of its roughly two dozen producers. Details of how much to borrow aren’t set, he said. As for advertising, don’t expect full-page ads in the Times.
Parnes cited 2006’s The Wedding Singer and 2007’s Xanadu as past beneficiaries of the Tony telecast. Although neither were hits, he said the televised numbers extended their lives. Both were stage adaptations of hit movies. Bright Star is all new, its most salable features are the creative team of Martin and Brickell, Isherwood’s review, and, now, the nominations. “I’m a Tony believer,” he said.
This story ran in a slightly different form in Crain’s New York Business.