Derren Brown‘s challenge: make a vacant Broadway theater appear out of thin air.
In a conversation with Adam Green at the New Yorker Festival on Oct. 7, the British illusionist said he’s “hopefully doing Broadway next spring, fingers crossed.” Greg Day, his United Kingdom-based spokesman, told Broadway Journal that Brown seeks to bring in Secret later this season. Ben Brantley called the show “enthrallingly baffling” when it played off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater in 2017.
“We have ambitions but currently no plans are in place,” added Michael Vine, Brown’s manager and a lead producer on any Broadway Secret.
The endearing and erudite “mentalist,” who steers clear of the hokum often associated with magic, manipulates minds as well as objects. “It’s more interesting to tell people what they’re thinking than to find a playing card,” Brown told Green. On Oct. 19, his latest Netflix special drops. Sacrifice is described as an elaborate psychological experiment that tests whether an American anti-immigration zealot will choose to take a bullet for an illegal alien.
Securing a Broadway venue is always difficult, particularly with 20 plays announced for this season. As Michael Paulson reported in his comprehensive story that ran online in the New York Times on Wednesday: “In a turnabout no one on Broadway expected, this season is rich with drama — ambitious, challenging, risky work, most of it new and most of it American.”
As much as the Internet has changed the world, and as important as word of mouth remains, one review still looms large, given that the audience for Broadway plays skews older and more local than for musicals.
“For plays, if you don’t get a good New York Times review and you don’t have a massive, massive star in it, you’re dead,” Sonia Friedman, the lead producer of The Ferryman, said in an interview with Hannah Beckerman published in the Financial Times on Oct. 5. “You’re dead within days.” (That’s unlikely for Jez Butterworth’s Ferryman, which opens on Oct. 21 and was much heralded in London, including by Ben Brantley of the Times.)
As Paulson noted, the quantity to-date isn’t news: I counted 19 plays featuring at least two actors announced for this season, the same as in 2017-18. But there’s substantially more new work: at least a dozen new plays, almost twice as many as last season. (Credit Scott Rudin in part: he’s the lead producer of four of the new dramas. Jeffrey Richards is doing two.) The subjects are hot button — Hillary and Bill (Lucas Hnath’s Hillary and Clinton), the Irish Republican Army (The Ferryman) and racism (Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird).
And journalism, the subject of three of the plays, generates copious publicity, or at least it did for Lifespan of a Fact, which opens Thursday night. (The most fun example: Michael Schulman‘s Talk story about Daniel Radcliffe moonlighting as a fact checker.)
Bankable stars in plays this season include Kerry Washington (American Son), Glenda Jackson (King Lear ), Keri Russell (Burn This ) and Nathan Lane (Gary ). Offsetting their pull are soaring production costs, which require big operating profits every week to repay investors over limited runs. Paulson reported that Network, starring Bryan Cranston, is capitalized at up to $7.75 million; and Ferryman, which has no stars in its cast of 24 adults (plus kids and babies), was capitalized at a maximum of $6.7 million.