EXCLUSIVE: The Public Theater could earn upwards of $10 million a year for helping to develop Hamilton: An American Musical. But don’t expect it to do anything flashy with the cash.
The plan for now is to plow money back into the institution — rather than bankrolling new shows on Broadway or making Public Theater tickets free year-round a la Shakespeare in the Park.
First up, according to two people familiar with the situation: an ambitious renovation to consolidate rehearsal space across the street, at 440 Lafayette, which will primarily replace facilities it rents around the city. And it’s setting aside reserves for capital expenses, operations and programming.
A Public spokeswoman wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The priority is to stabilize an institution that’s generally been more formidable artistically than financially. For example, as of August 2006, the Public had cash and investments of $21 million supporting an annual budget of $18 million, according to its financial statement. Nine years later, cash and investments declined to $19 million. Yet annual expenses nearly doubled, to $33 million.
The board of trustees is reluctant to return to Broadway producing because of its mixed history uptown. The Public has been a major force in shaping theater, from A Chorus Line and Hair to Fun Home and Eclipsed. Chorus Line and now Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton have been cash cows.
But investing its own money has often backfired. Two decades ago it lost about $14 million on the musicals The Wild Party and On the Town. It lost about $650,000 on Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers’ 2010 Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, despite critical acclaim and the musical’s prescient warning about American populism.
The original cast of Hamilton rehearsed at 890 Broadway and the Duke on 42nd Street. With the new space, Artistic Director Oskar Eustis could cross the street to check in on a show’s progress or monitor auditions.
The Public earned $1 million in royalties from Hamilton in year one on Broadway, according to a Hamilton financial statement filed with the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The $10 million estimate of annual royalties and profit is derived from the show’s huge sales nationally. Grosses averaged $2.9 million a week this year on Broadway, and more than $3 million a week during the 22-week run in San Francisco. (That production has since moved to Los Angeles.) A boffo Chicago edition has been running for more than a year.
Hamilton arrives on London’s West End on December 6 — two weeks late due to a delay renovating the Victoria Palace Theatre — where it’s sold-out through June 2018. Another U.S. tour starts in Seattle on February 6.
The Public receives royalties of 1.5 percent of Hamilton Broadway box office sales, up from 1 percent initially, and five percent of profit from Broadway and other U.S. productions, according to offering documents. The docs don’t specify royalties from productions outside New York, or whether the Public has profit share in London.
Producers Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman and Sander Jacobs invested and raised $1.7 million to present Hamilton off-Broadway at the Public, where it was a commercial and critical smash. The capitalization on Broadway was $12.5 million. The Public could eventually surpass its windfall for helping to create A Chorus Line, which totaled $38 million, according to a 1990 Times story — the equivalent of $100 million today after adjusting for inflation.
Editor: Alice Scovell