Word came over the weekend that the financially ailing Broadway revival of Ragtime will close this coming Sunday. At that point, the show will have played 57 regular performances and 28 previews, and will very likely lose its entire $8-million investment.
Michael Riedel of the New York Post had reported earlier this month that such an announcement was imminent, but the show's producers asserted that, although closure had been discussed, there were no concrete plans to do so. As if to prove the show's viability, there was even a weekend-long TV blitz from December 18th to the 21st, during which Ragtime cast members appeared on both local and national TV shows. In addition, cast member Bobby Steggert announced on Twitter that rumors of the show's closure were unfounded, which prompted an article in the New York Times about how the Internet rumor mill was doing Ragtime wrong.
Alas, the publicity efforts were too little too late, and over the weekend, Ragtime cast members heard that the show would indeed be closing on January 3rd, as had been rumored. On Monday, the producers issued the official closing announcement to the press.
So, what happened? The show's reviews were certainly strong, if not unqualified raves. Ragtime has long been a sentimental favorite with the "in" theater crowd, but as the [title of show] folks learned, that's not enough to keep a show running. Did the show simply come back to Broadway too soon? It's never too soon to bring a show back if there's a genuine audience for it. (e.g. Les Miserables, A Chorus Line, Grease.) Was Ragtime poorly marketed? Well, as I've said, the show's logo is washed-out and indistinct, but although good logos can certainly help a show establish a public presence, it's unlikely that a visual identity can make or break a show by itself.
Perhaps Ragtime simply got lost amid the blockbusters. There's been a growing tendency among casual theater goers to patronize only the biggest hits (e.g. Billy Elliot, Wicked, Jersey Boys). Although there may be room on Broadway right now for smaller shows to find a way to survive (e.g. Next To Normal, Rock of Ages), even a scaled-down Ragtime had a cast of 34 and some 30 people in the orchestra. Perhaps Ragtime is simply too big to ever succeed on Broadway.
Or maybe -- just maybe -- this Ragtime failed because the word of mouth just wasn't there. Sure, there are plenty of musical queens and theater mavens who've been talking the show up big time on Twitter and Facebook and the [shudder] theater chat rooms. But big shows rise and fall based on the pass-along "wow" factor. Maybe this production just wasn't getting the all-important man/woman on the street to go home and say, "Hey, you really gotta see this." As I said in my review, I'm a huge Flaherty and Ahrens fan, and an ardent admirer of Ragtime as a show. But I wasn't really blown away by this particular production. There seemed to be something missing, a lack of an emotional center. There was no questioning the talent on stage, but for me there just wasn't anything outstanding about the production itself.
The current production notwithstanding, Ragtime remains, in my humble estimation, a musical for the ages. It has a strong book and an amazing score, and I've been very gratified by how it has caught on in the provinces, despite the need for a large number of African Americans in the cast. (African Americans haven't always been interested in musical theater, although thankfully that seems to be changing.) If you have a chance to see the show before it closes, I recommend taking it in. But I remain quite confident that this isn't the last we've seen of Ragtime.ADDENDUM: The producers of Ragtime have announced that the show will play an extra week of performances, and will now close on January 10th. At that point, the show will have played 65 regular performances. Could this be the start of a trend? Or will the week amount to little more than a dead-cat bounce? I just got a ticket to see the show again on Friday, January 8th. Stay tuned for my re-review.