Monday, November 13, 2023

The Closing of Here Lies Love: A Few Thoughts

The Closing of Here Lies Love:
A Few Thoughts

It is always sad when a show closes. Years of work and hundreds of jobs gone with a producers' notice and a notice taped to the door. Sad but true, it happens more often than not. It is particularly hard to take when it's a show you really like and its run is short. 

Such is the case with Here Lies Love, scheduled to close November 26th after 33 previews and 149 performances. Tradition dictates that the producers announce with a message of gratitude, remorse and optimism. I found this one to be all of that and more.

They are correct that the production was a very creative, boundary-pushing enterprise. The design team really went above and beyond, basically creating a new space in an old one. They even found amazing ways to make the immersive experience completely immersive no matter where your ticket put you in the theater. And even if the creative team is about as white as you can get, the fact that they made sure to 100% cast Filipinos to tell a Filipino story is not only authentic, but very laudable.  They proved it can be done.

But after all of that, they offered a statement of... blame? excuse?

"But the reality is, succeeding on Broadway means not only producing excellent work with artistic merit—it also means creating the audience for it. And how much time it takes to find and grow new audiences is out of sync with the tight time frames for audience-building and awareness."

We all know what they mean. You have to have a big and growing audience before the money runs out. Now, I'm no producer, and I'll admit that I don't know all of the ins and outs of opening and running a Broadway show. Still, I have to wonder what the decision-makers thought about. 

Was it
  • the fact that they were peddling a show that was 10 years old already?
  • the fact that the story involves a controversial figure, whose family is again making headlines for coming back to power - is it timely or out of date?
  • the fact that the show might resonate with US audiences facing a fascist crisis, and those audiences might be weary of the whole mess, or worse are offended by it because they might see themselves in it?
  • the fact that the whole live musicians thing got more press than the show itself did, and painted a negative picture of the production?
  • the fact that it cost an estimated $22 million dollars with a rumored $700K nut (That nut was surpassed only 7 times since opening night, and they've never had a sold-out full week.)?
  • the fact that upwards of $200 - $300 a ticket for "the ultimate way to experience" is pricey, but on top of that, you either have to stand, packed like sardines, while constantly being moved around, watching out for your feet being run over or being trampled to death, or sit in the "the gallery" where you look straight out at the action, with limited views of anything not right in front of you, thereby missing a great deal of the action?
  • the fact that the best actual seats cost over $500 (you get twice the show at Hamilton, and you are definitely closer there!)?
  • the fact that going to even the most exclusive clubs is still cheaper and lasts more than 90 minutes?

I know, I know. Supply and demand, blah blah blah. Well, there isn't much demand. Let's be honest. The audience for a show about the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos performed as a nightclub act in a musical idiom that is not the most popular currently is a hard sell to begin with. And she's no Eva Peron. And didn't the people who are really interested in that history already see it in a more intimate venue ten years ago? 

As a child of the 70s and 80s, who grew up when all of this happened and Studio 54 was the be all and end all of entertainment, it would seem that  I'd be the target audience. Add to that I am part of that shrinking demographic: frequent attendance at Broadway shows, willing to travel to do it. I make a decent income. Now I always fill 
out those surveys when they ask, so someone on Broadway knows I'm out there ripe for the picking. I've yet to receive any special mailers, emails, anything to court me to see this show. 

Who are/were the producers "audience-building" to? Were they trying to get younger, hipper people to turn out in droves - I'm pretty sure they were, hence the "guest DJ after-parties." Again - clubs where you can stay longer (and not see what color Arielle Jacobs' underwear is up close) are considerably cheaper.

All of this is to say they have a supply. There isn't a demand. The price hasn't changed. Of course, they've painted themselves into a corner. By grossly overestimating the demand and price of "the experience," they can't really do much with the prices now and have any hope of making their nut. 

It is always sad when a show closes too young. And it is sad that there won't be many more chances to see this extraordinary production. If you do have a chance to see it, you really should. It's worth every penny.

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