Bruce Springsteen, with wife Patti Scialfa, ended his “Springsteen on Broadway” run Dec. 15 after 236 performances. (Getty Images)
The touring version of “Hamilton” is ringing up big numbers at theaters across the country, but the venue industry has its eyes on another Broadway smash: “Springsteen on Broadway.”
Using the long-term residency model designed for Las Vegas, Bruce Springsteen committed to playing the 975-seat Walter Kerr Theatre for three months starting in October 2017. The show was extended several times and ended its run Dec. 15 after The Boss performed 236 sold-out shows.
“Springsteen on Broadway” was not very Broadway at all. No big dance numbers, no chorus line, no sets. Just Springsteen in a T-shirt and jeans and wife Patti Scialfa singing and telling stories for more than two hours. Presidents, celebrities and fans fought for tickets, which weren’t cheap.
His departure has left Broadway salivating over what big act will be next, but it’s not just Broadway that’s drooling. Theaters from Chicago to Los Angeles to London are wondering whether big act residencies would work in their cities.
Springsteen sold 223,585 tickets and grossed $113,151,518 over his Broadway run, said Bob Allen, box office liaison for Pollstar.
Allen pointed out that the ticket price range is much higher for Broadway.
“Springsteen’s average ticket price sold on Broadway was $505.93” through mid-November, Allen said. On the River Tour with the E Street Band during 2016-17, “his average ticket was only $114.86.”
“The residency concept could definitely work again if it was a name as big as Springsteen, an act with that amount of mileage and that strong a fan base,” he said. “The Rolling Stones could do it.”
Allen believes Springsteen’s being a “product of New Jersey and that general metropolitan area of the country” may have helped. “Same with Billy Joel, who has his own monthly residency at (Madison Square Garden). Both artists come from that area and are associated with it. I don’t know if the same result would work for George Strait or Garth Brooks, as big as they are. Or the latest boy band phenomenon or pop act.”
Allen thinks that spots beyond Broadway and Vegas where residencies could take root are “few and far between. It’s uncharted territory anywhere else. Maybe London, since that’s also a theater city. Maybe the larger metropolitan centers of the world.”
The huge Springsteen returns caught the eye of Live Nation and CAA, according to a Nov. 22 report filed by New York Post theater reporter Michael Riedel that claimed the big music players are in negotiations to buy a Broadway theater to put on three-week residencies for their artists. Live Nation and CAA reps said the report was inaccurate.
Despite the denials, residencies are clearly on the radar of promoters, agents and theater owners in New York City and around the country, insiders said.
The modern residency model started in Las Vegas around 15 years ago when Celine Dion agreed to play three to four shows a week for several months at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, a 4,300-capacity space. The show was a huge hit and led the way for other artists like Elton John, Cher, Britney Spears, Rod Stewart and Jennifer Lopez to conquer the residency model.
Gwen Stefani started her “Just a Girl” residency in June at Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. (Todd Stefani)
“Vegas has worldwide visitation with entertainment being the cornerstone,” said Jason Gastwirth, president of entertainment for Caesars Entertainment. “What we’ve seen is that in lieu of artists touring into their cities, the fans have great interest in coming here to see the artists in an intimate setting.”
Typically, the artist comes in for a three- to four-week run and plays roughly three to four shows a week when in residence. The artist gets a guarantee plus bonuses if the ticket sales exceed expectations.
“The pitch to artists is that a residency is lifestyle-friendly,” Gastwirth said. “They don’t have to move the show from city to city and stay in strange hotel rooms. It’s really attractive to artists with families.”
The fan-friendly nature of a small-room residency is another selling point.
“Big acts like we have in residency play to 15,000-plus people a night on tour,” he said. “Here they can create a show for a couple thousand to see that’s cozy and where the fans can actually see them perform and not watch half the show on TV monitors.”
“It’s crucial that you pick the right artist,” he said. “For it to work, they need a wide-scale fanbase who have emotional love for the artist.”
Gastwirth said there were “only a handful of cities across the world that could pull this off” and cited New York as one of them. “New York is a tourist destination, like Vegas is, but I’m not sure if the residency model will work anywhere else.”
APA’s executive vice president and co-head of worldwide music, Steve Martin, said that for the model to work outside of Vegas or New York it would need “magical elements.”
The model can be viable, but it’s the combination of destination, artist, ticket price and venue, he said.
“You definitely need a big artist with a worldwide draw,” Martin said. “The caliber of artist who could do a successful residency could also sell out an arena. The artist really has to decide if it’s right for them or not. As an agent you want to fulfill your artist’s ambitions. It’s certainly attractive to an older artist who wants to perform but not travel. Doing 40 one-nighters in 60 days is not for everyone.”
Martin said that there has been interest in APA artists David Gilmour and Ray Davies to do residencies, neither of which have come to fruition yet, and that he sees it as a growing model, “if you have the right elements in place.”
Scott Kane, marketing director for SHN, which owns and operates San Francisco’s Orpheum and Golden Gate theaters, thinks that “there definitely is an appetite for a storytelling experience similar to ‘Springsteen on Broadway’” and recalled when SHN launched Hugh Jackman’s one-man show before it went to Broadway.
“We quickly realized that offering a rare opportunity to experience a unique live performance by an A-list star, in an intimate setting, was the ideal way to retain our existing customer base, and bring new ones under our tent,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll see more artists create productions specifically for the Broadway stage so we can continue to engage and attract fans to the theater experience.”
Leslie Stewart, general manager of San Francisco’s 3,000-seat Paramount Theater, had a completely different take on residencies. “I can’t meet the residency requirements of continuous dates,” she said. “I have resident companies — the Oakland Ballet, the Oakland Symphony and a speaker series. They are regular season-subscriber shows, and they are not moving for Springsteen or anyone else.”
Stewart does think the residency model is viable in theaters outside of New York and Vegas. “The idea travels, but it’s just not for us,” she said.
Martin said that “someone will try it in L.A. or San Francisco and then we’ll see if the model is exportable. If it works, the floodgates will be wide open. There’s not an artist around that wouldn’t prefer not to travel.”