Is Ron Howard right?

First, let me say that Ron Howard may be the best example of the pivot in the history of the entertainment industry.  To go from Opie to Richie Cunningham to one of the most successful Directors in Hollywood is quite the story (a story they wrote into his exit from “Happy Days,” which I always thought was so cool).
I love his career arc so much (not to mention his movies) that I produced the NYU Tisch Gala in 2009 that honored him.
But last week he said something that made me think he had smoked one too many ‘backdrafts.’ (If you’re a Ron Howard fan, you get that reference. If not, sorry about it.)
When talking about the beleaguered movie theater business, Mr. Howard said . . .
“The multiplexes are going to become a little bit like Broadway in a way.  That’s where the expensive projects go.”
Ok, ok, I get what he’s trying to say. There will only be room for the mega hits in movie theaters. The big action flicks. The Disney extravaganzas.
You know, like what makes it on Broadway.
See that’s where Richie C. got it wrong.
Yes, the monster musical, Lion King, is a smash. But that opened in l997. Phantom was in 1988. Maybe he’s thinking about Wicked . . . but even that was in 2003, 17 (!) years ago.
This is a common misconception about Broadway . . . that it’s filled with only giant mega shows that are its biggest hits.  
Well, those mega produced shows get the biggest press.
But they don’t often run the longest or make the most money. In fact, besides Disney shows (which we can’t count anyway, because their business model is unique), no show over $20mm has ever recouped its investment.
The biggest hits of the last few years?
Well, let’s look at the Tony Winners, since my data shows that 80% of Tony winners recoup their investments, instead of the average of 20% of all shows.
Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Hadestown, The Band’s Visit, Fun Home, Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder.
While the latter three weren’t long runners, they all did make money and spawned national and international tours and productions.
And the first three are giant hits (pandemic notwithstanding).
And what about Jersey Boys, Spring Awakening, Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots, etc., etc.
Were any of those mega shows?
Nah. They were just great shows, done for reasonable amounts of money, that resonated with the public.
That’s what works on Broadway, Ronnie boy. And that’s what will always work on Broadway.
And that’s exactly what we need to focus on as we plan our post-pandemic come back.
What will work in movie theaters?
No clue. It’s literally not my business.
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Are you curious about what Broadway will look like when it comes back? And how we can make it better? If Broadway is your business, or you’re just a fan, you’re going to be interested in this.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.