When does the Christmas countdown start? Some Americans say it is after Thanksgiving. Australian retailers think any time after Halloween is fair game. Personally, I think that today (November 30) is the last day I can get away without thinking about Christmas presents and listening to Christmas songs. But Broadway started in July!
Just as we all have our own holiday traditions, Broadway has created a rather recent new one. The limited eight-week run Christmas musical. In competition with the Rockettes’ annual ‘Radio City Christmas Spectacular’, the last few years has seen the creation of Elf: The Musical, A Christmas Story and Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Unfortunately these productions don’t have much relevance outside the months of November and December but that doesn’t mean they are a bad investment. In fact, the limited running season means that the show is able to capitalise on the busy season of Broadway and, alike the Rockettes, is able to return for several years because it doesn’t suffer from wear-out over time. Plus, don’t forget the crazy schedules on which the shows run. Forget your average 8-show weeks – Grinch was running 15-show weeks a couple of years ago because it is only 90 minutes long.
However, last year was a bumper year for these shows with four in direct competition for New York tourist audiences. And to avoid audience wear-out, this year’s Christmas festivities are much quieter with only the traditional Rockettes and a short 19-day engagement from A Christmas Story. But something else is happening . . .
Because these shows have a rather universal appeal and don’t rely on an innate knowledge of the theatre to enjoy, they are ideal for touring. And both A Christmas Story and Grinch are taking their shows to new areas and new audiences where there is much less competition from other musicals over the festive season.
With slightly increased performing weeks, the universality of these productions and a lack of competition, the touring circuit is where these productions receive the most benefit. And as a result, it is the direction they are all moving towards.
This year has seen A Christmas Story play to Broadway as well as regional touring hubs, but I doubt it will be long before we see multiple touring productions of the same show capitalising on the eight-week limited runs across the country. And if they carry it out well with high-quality casts and big production value, visiting a touring production during the Christmas season could become as traditional as turkey with cranberry sauce!
As you all head into the silly season and begin to feel overwhelmed from countless hours searching for the right presents and preparing the Christmas Day meal, just remember this:
At least you aren’t doing 15-show weeks on top of it all!