A trip to New York wouldn't be complete without heading to the glitz and bright lights of Broadway. Seeing at least one Broadway musical in your lifetime is an absolute must, whether you're a full-fledged theater aficionado or merely a travel-loving individual craving to satisfy your wanderlust.
Who can resist the music, the costumes, the set, the story that all go all into one beautiful extravaganza? It will leave you happy and quietly humming the tunes of the musical as you walk out of the theater on a high. Then after gushing and marveling at all the extravagance laid out before you, the pragmatist in you kicks in, as you wonder: how much money was shelled out to put that whole thing together? So how much exactly is poured into producing a Broadway musical?
First of all, a Broadway musical would never come to be without the big bucks of the investors and producers who are willing to take the risk and shell out their fortune for a project that may or may not be a hit. Without these financial backers, there would be no production. You can break down the costs into two parts: Production Budget and Operating Costs.
The first component that goes into producing a show is the production budget. The meat of the budget naturally goes into publicity and marketing, which eats up roughly 19% of it. This is understandable, given marketing is the tool that will give the production exposure, which then translates to sales.
Insurance, actors’ fees, and construction materials are on even keel, taking up 17% apiece. The smaller chunks of the budget then go to designer fees, the director, playwright, and of course, miscellaneous expenses.
The weekly operating budget is completely separate from the production budget. This includes weekly salaries (with health insurance) of the stage crew; theater fees, such as rent, utilities; and other incidentals, like unforeseen repairs and rent of the production office.
In 2014, the average cost to produce a musical is around $10 million. So which productions’ investors dared to tip the scale and shell out more than the average amount?*
*Take note that prices are adjusted for inflation.
10 Aladdin: $14 Million
“A Whole New World” was opened to Broadway as Disney’s latest installment began its run last March. With an estimated budget of $14 million, Aladdin is an adaptation of the extremely successful 1992 Disney film with the same title and features many of the original songs in the movie. Its budget of $14 million is on the high side, but with a respectable company like Disney to cover the expenses, you can be sure that every penny is used as wisely as possible.
It has only been runningoin Broadway for a few weeks, but Aladdin has so far been playing to very warm reviews. It looks like a profit will be made from the run and it will be deemed a fairly successful musical.
9 The Phantom of the Opera: $14.2 Million
Touted as the longest running Broadway musical of all time, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera has been gracing the Broadway stage since 1988. This is one show that you wouldn't want to miss. Whether you happen to be in New York or Las Vegas or live in a city where the traveling production stages the musical, buying a ticket to watch the show is worth your while. With its well-known songs “All I Ask of You” and the title song, the phantom, Christine, and Raoul will easily entrance you from the Paris Opera House to the Phantom’s lair in the dungeons.
With the infamous chandelier as the show’s central theme, people assume that the budget for this show is exorbitant. Although surprisingly, it only comes in number 9 on the list with a cost of $14.2 million by today’s standards. Aside from being the longest running musical of all time, it was the highest grossing one as well until 2012. It has made a profit many times over and will continue to do so as its popularity shows no sign of waning.
8 Dance of the Vampires: $15.2 Million
Number 8 on the list of big spenders is Dance of the Vampires, which unfortunately, is also deemed as one of the biggest flops in Broadway history. Based on a 1967 horror comedy motion picture called, The Fearless Vampires, it starred Michael Crawford, who was the original phantom in Phantom of the Opera. However, the big star’s name did not pull any weight in drawing the crowds in or pleasing critics. The show closed after only five short weeks on the stage and a budget of $15.2 million. To say the producers didn't earn back a single dime is an unfortunate understatement.
7 Tarzan: $16 Million
It’s no surprise that yet another Disney production has made its way to the biggest budgeted musicals. At number 7 is Tarzan, based on the 1999 animated film with a budget of $16 million. Like in the film, the musical score of the Broadway show was written by pop star and composer Phil Collins. With Collins at the music’s helm and three successful musicals in a row prior to this one, Disney execs were confident they had another hit on their hands. Too bad the public didn't feel the same way. Having opened in March 2006, the show closed less than two years later to lukewarm reviews.
6 The Little Mermaid: $16.6 Million
Coming close at number 6 is the wonderful underwater world of Ariel, Flounder, and the rest of the characters in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The production opened in January 2008 with a budget of approximately $16.6 million. It featured the original songs in the movie, plus new tunes by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. However, despite the catchy tunes and elaborate costumes, the show closed after a year and a half. It’s not clear if producers made a profit, but it’s safe to say this was not one of Disney’s successful musicals.
5 Wicked: $16.9 Million
With a timeless classic like The Wizard of Oz, it was a big gamble for Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman to develop a prequel to follow in its giant footsteps, and develop one they did. Wicked was born and the rest is history. With a budget of $16.9 million, Wicked defied gravity by reaping in numerous Tony nominations and awards, garnering critical acclaim, and is already considered one of the most beloved musicals of all time. After all, it’s also the third highest grossing musical in history. It can fast rise to number one, as it’s as beloved now as it was the day it first opened.
4 Beauty and the Beast: $17.4 Million
When Disney dared to venture into musical theatre, its producers chose as its flagship project, to stage its hit animated film, Beauty and the Beast. It opened on Broadway in 1994 with a budget that is now worth $17.4 million, a pretty hefty amount for a first foray into the unknown. Luckily, the investment paid off. The musical ran on Broadway for 13 years, only closing to make way for The Little Mermaid, which was set to start showing in 2007.
3 Lion King: $27.5 Million
Rounding off the top 3 most expensive musicals of all time is Disney’s Lion King. With its elaborate set, attractive costumes, and fantastic musical score, Lion King first opened back in 1997 with a budget of what is now $27.5 million, but every penny was worth it. Since Lion King is the highest grossing Broadway musical of all time, dethroning previous title holder and longest running show, Phantom of the Opera. It has reaped in a whopping $1 billion dollars and will probably bring in more as it continues its Broadway run for the seventeenth year straight.
2 Shrek the musical: $27.6 Million
The second biggest budget musical is the stage adaptation of everyone’s favorite green giant on film, Shrek. Shrek the Musical opened on Broadway on December 2008 with a budget of what is now $27.6 million. Critics and audiences though, did not take to the stage adaptation of such a widely popular character. The show closed after a little over a year of playing to thinning crowds. Instead, it has resorted to becoming a touring production to try and gain back some of its losses.
1 Spiderman: Turn off the Dark: $79 Million
The biggest spender of all big spenders in Broadway musical history is about a human spider. One of Marvel’s most popular characters was depicted in a rock musical called Spiderman: Turn off the Dark. Like Peter Parker’s alter ego, the budget kept creeping and scaling the walls until it reached a whopping $75 million (now $79 million with inflation) back when it opened in June 2011. Despite the pull of U2’s Bono, who did the music and lyrics, the show failed to give investors back its money. It closed early in 2014 with a loss of $60 million.