Broadway’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Closes With Broken Records, Trickling Profits

Broadway’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Closes With Broken Records, Trickling Profits
Lee Seymour
Aug 27, 2018

So long dearie, hello profits. Sort of.

The Tony-winning revival of Hello, Dolly! concluded this weekend, after an unprecedented run. Original star Bette Midler returned for the final weeks, elevating grosses back to eye-watering levels, with a final frame tally of $2.34 million. During her initial award-winning stint, the show broke its own box office record twelve times.

But for a hit that grossed $128.19 million (more than any revival in Broadway history not called Chicago), some investors have been grumbling. While the production recouped its $15.9 million investment last winter, a detailed report of its finances disclosed that backers only made 5% on their buy-in as of last week.

In particular, the report flagged lavish spending by the show’s producer, Scott Rudin. Despite being almost completely sold-out for the duration of Midler’s stint, the show was still running $150,000 of ads per week. (Rudin declined to comment when asked for this story).

Possibly in response to the report, the show’s LLC distributed additional checks over the weekend. Several investors confirmed today that another 5% had come in, with a note saying more was on the way. This makes the musical’s financial picture a bit more rosy than initially disclosed.

The larger context, however, is what’s causing the grousing. In order to get a piece of Dolly’s pie, most investors were required to put money into riskier projects on the producer’s slate, too. According to them, even a 15% profit on Dolly wouldn’t cover half the losses taken on A Doll’s House, Part 2 or The Glass Menagerie, which closed last year.

“The whole thing is indecent,” said one dejected investor. (None would be quoted by name, as Rudin’s offering documents contain non-disparagement clauses).

Indecent or not, it’s not completely out of left field. Many producers “bundle” their projects for investors, mitigating risks with surefire hits. If one puts money into such a slate, one likely won’t be making a mint. It’s more of a mutual fund approach than betting it all on a single stock.

Also important to note is that Rudin acts as managing member for the LLCs behind his shows. As such, he has sole discretion over when and how to return funds. When asked for clarification, one co-producer responded with a flurry of expletives, concluding: “Look, they know how he operates. They knew what they were getting into. And he made them money.”

However one slices the Dolly pie, its final week on the boards was a bright one indeed. The production was second only to Hamilton on the list of Broadway’s highest-grossing shows, as almost every other production saw a decline in sales. It’s also sending out a two-year national tour next month, starring Betty Buckley.

The industry overall sank 5.08% to a total of $33.66 million, fueled by big drops at Waitress (down $327k) and Springsteen On Broadway (down $477k as the Boss took a day off). Pretty Woman, however, broke the house record at the Nederlander Theatre for the second time, at $1.15m outgrossing long-running hits The Book Of Mormon ($1.1m) and Phantom Of The Opera ($998k).

The dog days of summer are tough on the Main Stem, as buyers and producers alike prep for Labor Day getaways. Expect things to pick up again in a few weeks, once the new season gets up to steam.

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