Broadway is usually a risky business — but the remount of Waitress looks like an excellent bet.
Pop star Sara Bareilles, who wrote the musical’s acclaimed score, will return to the lead role for the first six weeks of the four-month engagement, scheduled to begin Sept. 2 at the Barrymore Theatre. And the U.S. Small Business Administration has awarded the production $10 million as part of its disaster relief program for the live entertainment industry.
It’s unclear how the Broadway show was harmed by the pandemic. After a nearly-four-year run, Waitress closed on Jan. 5, 2020, more than two months before Broadway ceased performances amid a spike in Covid 19. Waitress spokespeople didn’t return emails seeking comment.
Lead producers Barry and Fran Weissler announced the return engagement Wednesday morning, a day after the SBA disclosed the grant to Waitress LLC, the limited liability company financing the show. The production was capitalized at $12 million, which was recouped in less than 10 months. (The SBA also disclosed that two entities producing Waitress national tours received a combined $16.9 million.)
The SBA’s $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grants have been a lifeline for producers, talent agents, venues and cultural organizations large and small. The SBA has awarded $10 million — the maximum grant available — to the city’s most-visited institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Carnegie Hall.
Some of Broadway’s most profitable shows have taken advantage of the federal funds following the 15-month theater shutdown. The Phantom of the Opera received $9.9 million and Chicago received $10 million. They’re the longest-running shows on Broadway, major tourist draws and their return — on Oct. 22 for Phantom and Sept. 14 for Chicago — should help New York’s recovery. Spokespeople for the two productions declined to comment about whether expectations for grants affected the decision to resume performances.
Chicago, which opened in 1996 after originating at the Encores! series at City Center, earned a net profit of $91 million on Broadway as of Jan. 2019, according to production financial statements filed with the state attorney general’s office. It has gross sales of $681 million, according to the Broadway League, and is also produced by the Weisslers.
Phantom has grossed $1.25 billion since its chandelier first fell inside the Majestic Theatre on 1988. (I don’t have figures for its profits.) Phantom is produced by Cameron Mackintosh and the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group.
Last week, the SBA disclosed that three productions of Hamilton were awarded a total of $30 million. Jeffrey Seller, Hamilton‘s lead producer, was quoted in the New York Times averring that the program was returning Broadway to health. “Remember when Chrysler and GM were about to go bankrupt? In the same way that the federal government came in to bail out auto companies, it’s doing the same thing for all of show business with this legislation,” Seller said.
Other grant recipients include the Temptations musical Ain’t Too Proud ($10 million) and the long-running off-Broadway hit Stomp ($4 million).
Producers are hopeful about Broadway’s comeback but note the uncertainties, including when tourists return in large numbers and the possibility that the state could reduce capacity of theaters or close them altogether should Covid cases increase again in the region. As of midday Tuesday, the SBA awarded $3.2 billion out of $11.7 billion requested.