Can You Guarantee Success?

There is one sure-fire way to tell if a show has been successful in attracting an audience. Recoupment. Earning back its original financial investment. If a show can earn back this (rather significant) lump sum, then it can be classified as a commercial success returning the original investment to the investors with a nice little profit on top. But how can you guarantee a show will recoup?


Short answer? You can’t.

Similar to every other marketplace, the theatre world is fickle. Where one product works another with exactly the same model may fail tremendously. Recouping an investment can never be guaranteed. But if you look back over the last couple of seasons at the list of recouping plays there is a rather obvious trend which appears. (And it would be silly not to take note of this one!)

Recouping Plays

  • The Heiress, led by Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain and Downtown Abbey’s Dan Stevens
  • Glengarry Glen Ross, led by Al Pacino
  • Lucky Guy, led by Tom Hanks
  • I’ll Eat You Last, one woman show starring Bette Midler
  • 700 Sundays, one man show starring Billy Crystal
  • A Raisin in the Sun, led by Denzel Washington
  • All the Way, led by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston
  • Betrayal, led by Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz
  • Lady Day at Emerson’s Café and Bar, one woman show starring Audra McDonald
  • Of Mice and Men, led by Chris O’Dowd, James Franco and Leighton Meester
  • The Glass Menagerie, led by Zachary Quinto
  • The River, led by Hugh Jackman
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • It’s Only A Play, starring a whole host of stars including Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint and Stockard Channing
  • The Elephant Man, led by Bradley Cooper

Can you see where I’m going?

With the exception of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, all of these recouping plays had at least one star (if not a whole galaxy) leading the charge amongst the over-crowded entertainment landscape. One star who brought an existing or new theatre crowd to their show and provided ‘reassurance’ to the audience that this was going to be a worthwhile show to spend $100+ to see.

But like all golden rules. This one has it’s exceptions as well. There is the curious result of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This show received a huge amount of publicity from a sell-out West End run (and a lot more publicity when the roof collapsed during one of the performances). So when it reached Broadway it was riding an enormous tidal wave of good press which had already been prompting audiences.

Then there is the reverse. Orlando Bloom led Romeo and Juliet failed to return any profit to its investors and the same for Macbeth starring Alan Cumming. If you have an explanation for these ones let me know because I am at a loss!

What it really proves is that the nature of the industry is fickle. There isn’t a sure-fire set of rules to follow to guarantee success. But there is one important lesson to take away from this list. Of the 15 plays that recouped over the last couple of years, only one didn’t have a celebrity. A play may be fantastic but if it isn’t fronted by a drawcard name then it has rather slim chances of making it onto this list.