EXCLUSIVE: Turns out the road to nowhere is paved with gold.
Investors in David Byrne’s Broadway concert American Utopia have been repaid and profit checks are imminent, according to a person familiar with the production.
After a Boston tryout, the limited-run show opened on Oct. 20 at the Ambassador Theatre Group’s Hudson Theatre and is scheduled to close on Feb. 16. It was capitalized at a maximum of $4 million.
Behind the swift recoupment are rave reviews, rapturous word of mouth and the magnetism of the former Talking Heads frontman and his ensemble, as choreographed by Annie-B Parson. Weekly grosses have steadily risen to $1.1 million since the end of December, according to Broadway League data. The scattered remaining seats sell for as much as $649 at the box office (or $672 online); $699 buys you access to a private lounge and bathroom. Tickets are even pricier in the secondary market.
Although the cerebral and celebratory American Utopia is a world away from Bruce Springsteen’s autobiographical show that closed in December 2018, its success confirms that Broadway is fertile ground for iconic pop stars. (Other artists, such as Regina Spektor, have done well with shorter runs.)
Byrne is paid union scale for performing six times a week, according to a filing with the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James. (The Broadway minimum salary is $2,168. The filing doesn’t include weekly expenses.)
Nevertheless, the 67-year-old has substantial upside. As the conceiver of the concert and composer of most of the songs — including the Talking Heads single “Road to Nowhere” — he’s entitled to a minimum 5 percent of box office or 15 percent of weekly operating profit, according to the offering document. That amounts to at least $50,000 a week.
Now that Utopia has recouped, he also receives 10 percent of net profit off the top — which could rise to as much as 17.5 percent of net profit should the production clear specified thresholds of investor returns.
Moreover, as a lead producer, Byrne shares half of the adjusted net profit — what’s left after net profit is distributed — with fellow lead producers Kristin Caskey and Mike Isaacson (who together oversaw Fun Home ) and Patrick Catullo (Oh, Hello on Broadway ). Investors split the other 50 percent of adjusted net profit.
The lead producers also share fees, office charges and royalties that likely total more than $30,000 a week, based on current box office.
The ensemble of nine musicians and two vocalists aren’t forgotten. They share 1 percent of net profit should investors realize a 10 percent return, a deal similar to what the original cast of Hamilton negotiated.
A production spokesman declined to comment for this story.
Nothing about Byrne’s deal suggests that he is motivated solely by money. There’s a table in the theater lobby to register voters. Two years ago, he founded a website, Reasons to be Cheerful, to tell stories about “replicable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.”
Byrne fans also have cause for cheer. Prime orchestra seats that are available a few hours before each performance have been discounted to as low as $249, a comparative fire-sale price. And Spike Lee will direct a movie version of the show. Participant, the media company that aims to inspire social change, is the executive producer and lead financier. Deadline first reported the deal late Friday.
Note: This post was updated with news of Spike Lee’s involvement.