The Business of Broadway

Alicia Keys, Kenny Leon, Lydia Diamond and others represent the new look of Broadway

Stick Fly’s cast includes television stars Mekhi Phifer (ER), Dulé Hill (Psych), and Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Castle, Law & Order). It also features Condola Rashad, the daughter of Phylicia Rashad. “Casting TV stars gives it a hip factor, especially among young people,” says Leon.

The Mountaintop’s producers, Sonia Friedman and Jean Doumanian, who are white, are banking on the star power of Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson to attract huge New York audiences. But it’s about more than celebrities, says Friedman. “We thought this was an original play that would resonate with American audiences.”

The Mountaintop is the fictional account of an encounter between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (played by Jackson) and a chamber maid (played by Bassett) in Memphis the night before his assassination. One of the most highly anticipated plays this fall, The Mountaintop is an import from London’s West End, where it won the Olivier (West End’s equivalent to Broadway’s Tony Award) for Best New Play.

Investors in the London show also invested in the Broadway production. The Mountaintop is already making money: In its first seven weeks of previews and performances, Hall’s play has reached 83% to 98% of audience capacity, according to the Broadway League, a trade group of producers and theater owners.

Because of the limited time commitments of many actors, some plays have limited runs, 13 weeks compared with 52. “The casting process is crucial to the potential box-office success of a play,” says Cannon. “While it doesn’t guarantee it, casting well-known, talented actors goes a long way toward marketing, publicity, and ticket sales.” A coveted Tony Award win or nomination can also bump up box office sales and potentially extend a show’s run or save it from closure.

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