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Saturday, January 24, 2021

The NYT’s Economixers pose an interesting question about the high-stakes world of theatrical-play production: Why don’t they make movie-like sequels for Broadway?

Why wouldn’t this strategy also be true on the stage? Theater is a high-risk, low-return investment. Producers who hope to make a profit (and not all do) tend to be risk-averse, opting for tried-and-true revivals of plays and musicals. If “Guys and Dolls” was a hit once, surely it can be a hit again and again.

In other words, many theater producers and investors hoping to make money favor “safe” productions, which, given evidence from Hollywood, should include sequels. Yet sequels to theatrical blockbusters (think “The Producers”) are almost unheard of. I’m not talking about those cultural products originally crafted as a serial, like the “The Coast of Utopia” or “Angels in America.” I’m talking about the productions that were done after the original became a commercial hit, a la “Revenge of the Nerds.”

So why no “Speed-The-Plow 2″, or even an operatic follow-up like “Doctor Atomic: Fallout” (especially viable, considering J. Robert Oppenheimer’s post-war travails)? Part of the explanation is that, since most of the successful stage plays are dramas, their resolutions don’t easily lend themselves to extended storylines. Of course, where sequels are concerned, you can stretch anything out; so even if “Death of a Salesman” seemingly ends conclusively with Willy Loman’s demise, Part II could find an audience with an examination of Biff Loman some twenty years later. (Not to give anyone ideas.)

Personally, I think the typical older-skewing demographic of the theater-goer precludes the success of sequeling, for the same reasons why movie sequels don’t fly with the same audience:

…I have a feeling that numbers in a movie title are more a turn-off for older viewers. They’ve seen that device for too many years, and have been burned too many times by crappy movies, that they’re now jaded to it. Younger moviegoers, on the other hand, haven’t experienced as many letdowns, and so are likely more charitable toward the numbered titles.

Basically, putting “2″ after any title these days is like providing a punchline — those who’ve been around practically expect a crappy product. It would take a lot of marketing build-up to convince an audience that’s already difficult to persuade. As much as banking on familiarity would result in a lucrative payoff, there’s probably too much heavy lifting involved to pull it off.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 01/24/2009 03:11:41 PM
Category: Business, Media, Movies
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2 Feedbacks »
  1. One issue:

    When a sequel comes out, people can watch the original movie again. That’s a little more difficult to do with a play where significant time may have passed between the first and second viewing and unless a movie has been made of the play it’s less likely that you’d be able to do that with a play.

    Comment by trumwill — 01/26/2009 @ 08:15:49 PM

  2. That’s one of the dynamics cited in the article. That’s not particularly vital to me, personally; either I can remember enough of the original, or else I’ve consciously decided to forgo it. You can always read the first play’s script, probably online…

    Comment by CT — 01/26/2009 @ 08:56:07 PM

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