Making Broadway bucks a crapshoot; ‘Jersey Boys’ investors hit right notes

Image of Jersey Boys poster“You could make a killing, but not a living, in the theater,” said playwright  Robert Anderson in a 1966 Christian Science Monitor interview about “Tea and  Sympathy,” his successful first Broadway play that was turned into a movie. Anderson couldn’t recreate that same success on stage and turned to teaching and writing Hollywood screenplays.

About 75 percent of Broadway shows — musicals and plays — don’t recoup their investment let alone make money for investors. In NY state there is a strict legal formula concerning who gets paid first (Hint: It’s not Max Bialystock). But that’s not what we’re talking about now. Lucky investors of the original production of “Jersey Boys,” the 12th longest running show on Broadway that grossed more than $2 billion worldwide, told the NYTimes in an article published today (1/15/17), they made back about 22 percent on their original investments.

That’s not to say they all are living like millionaires. A dentist and his wife invested $12,500 and estimate earnings of $250,000 to $300,000. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Another, a venture capitalist who at $1.4 was the largest single investor, bought a winery and a private library to which he added a “Jersey Boys” museum. Now that’s more millionaire-like.

What I really like about the success of these regular-folks investors is they jumped on board because they saw the show in their hometown theater — La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. It, like many other non-profit regional theaters in this country, are incubators for  successful Broadway shows that eventually tour here and abroad.

Laura Osnes and Corey Cott (center) in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of "The Bandstand," which begins Broadway previews on March 21. (PHOTO: Jerry Dalia)
Laura Osnes and Corey Cott (center) in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of “The Bandstand,” which begins Broadway previews on March 21. (PHOTO: Jerry Dalia)

In NJ, we’re lucky to have the Tony Award-winning Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn which sent “Newsies,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” the current “A Bronx Tale” and the upcoming “Bandstand” to Broadway. Also, Tony Award-winning McCarter Theatre in Princeton which premiered “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play.

La Jolla Playhouse’s  current season includes Disney’s “Freaky Friday,” starting Jan. 31. It’s 2017-’18 season includes the world premiere of “Escape to Margaritaville,” with lyrics by  — hello! — by Jimmy Buffett. Directed by Christopher Ashley.  I see Broadway in its future. Don’t you? That’s followed by a new play, “At the Old Place”; a world premiere play with music, “Wild Goose Dreams,” and the world premiere of what is being called the “Untitled Donna Summer Musical” and directed by Des McAnuff, who helmed “Jersey Boys.”

To read more about what it’s like to be a successful Broadway investor, click here to read the NYTimes article.