Hello Dolly: Without Bette Midler, Sales Have Dropped By Over Half, But It’s Staying Alive

Mister D: Many of you take offense at these Broadway business articles because you think they are negating Bernadette Peter’s talent, but only a simpleton would fall for that logic. It’s just not necessarily so. She could be the greatest Dolly but if she doesn’t have the international name recognition or the broad appeal of a Bette Midler then that could spell trouble. Peters never had the remarkable career arcs that Midler has had.

Wall Street Journal
Without Bette Midler, ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Sales Aren’t Looking as Swell
By Charles Passy
Feb. 7, 2018 5:30 a.m. ET

By most measures, the Tony Award-winning actress Bernadette Peters is one of Broadway’s biggest stars. But compared with Bette Midler, her star apparently doesn’t shine quite as brightly.

Since Ms. Peters took over for Ms. Midler in the Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly!” last month, the musical’s weekly grosses have dropped by more than half from their peak of around $2.5 million, according to the Broadway League, the trade group that tracks the industry. For the seven-day period ending this past Sunday, the show reported grosses of $1 million.

The sales offer an interesting insight into a question that has long plagued Broadway producers: How will a show perform after the departure of its marquee-name star?

To a great extent, the sales decline for “Hello, Dolly!” was anticipated: Ms. Midler’s Tony Award-winning performance in the lead role of Dolly Levi was heralded as one of those once-in-a-lifetime theatrical events. Over the course of her 10-month run, the show grossed about $90 million.

What’s more, Ms. Peters started her engagement during the postholiday winter period, traditionally one of the slowest stretches in the Broadway season.

Scott Rudin, the veteran producer behind the “Dolly” revival, declined to comment on the show’s sales. But “Dolly” insiders pointed to encouraging signs about the production since Ms. Peters took over.

In particular, they note that the show is still drawing audiences greater than 90% of weekly capacity, even if the average price paid per ticket has dipped, thus accounting for the decrease in total sales. That means the production is besting such long-running hits as “Kinky Boots,” which played to 69% of capacity last week, and “The Phantom of the Opera,” which played to 82%.

Plus, Broadway observers say, if the show continues to gross at least $1 million weekly, it will likely be profitable in any case.

“I think as long as they hold this line, it’s great,” said Chris McKittrick, a writer with Daily Actor, a trade website that covers theater.

Still, a change in casting doesn’t always translate into a sales decline for other shows.

“Dear Evan Hansen ” actor Ben Platt, who won a Tony for his performance in the title role, left the show in November. After television actor Noah Galvin took over the lead, weekly grosses generally increased. In the final week of 2017, the show set a new weekly record of $2.1 million.

Of course, “Dear Evan Hansen” is built as much around the musical’s plot and themes, which are especially geared to a millennial audience, as the cast itself.

“I always think of the show as the star,” said Stacey Mindich, the show’s lead producer.

The show is now undergoing another casting change: Broadway veteran Taylor Trensch has taken over for Mr. Galvin as of this week.

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5 thoughts on “Hello Dolly: Without Bette Midler, Sales Have Dropped By Over Half, But It’s Staying Alive

  1. I’ve always enjoyed Bernadette, and I have to say she’s a fantastic looking near 70-year old (I’d still guess her to be in her 40’s). I often wondered how the box office would fare without Bette, but it looks like “Dolly” will still make money, even with half the weekly gross revenue. I can’t imagine anyone wishing Bernadette ill-will, as the Broadway set tend to jump around (note: Taylor Trensch now the lead in Dear, Evan Hansen), and Bernadette is among the most respected ladies of Broadway (along with Patti LuPone). If you want a good laugh, check out Bernadette’s “Making Love Alone” on YouTube. She sang it on Johnny Carson in the 80”s–a song, about, er…..masturbation. A fun, and funny, subtle gem.

  2. Well said, Don. I love both Bette and Bernadette. I was thrilled to see Bette in the role and it truly was a once in a lifetime experience. But I am also a huge Bernadette fan and have seen her in Sunday in the Park with George, Annie Get Your Gun and Follies. All three of those were tremendous experiences. I would love to see her in Hello Dolly, too. As you noted, they are very different performers — each able to delight and move their audiences so, yes, stop with the comparisons. Off topic question: have you heard if there’s any chance Scott Rudin, once the Broadway run and tours are over, will make a film version with Bette?

    1. No. Haven’t heard anything, but it seems like they would do something with it, even if it were one of those televised live events of a musical.

  3. When Channing left Dolly Ginger Rogers took over, then Martha RAYE and the grosses dropped to $44k a week and it nearly closed they brought in Betty Grable and up the money went to $90k a week Dolly was saved by Grable.

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