Familiar names a draw for Broadway audiences in spring shows

It isn’t only fishermen who will use a hook to catch trout this spring; it’s also Broadway producers who search for just the right hook to reel in audiences.

These days, producing a play or musical on Broadway is now more than ever a risky and expensive business. With a glut of originals and revivals opening, all hoping to break even or turn a buck, producers play all the angles to draw in theatergoers willing to pay hefty ticket prices.

The hooks range from casting a Hollywood or TV star, to scheduling a revival of very popular fare from the not-so-distant past.

Having a familiar name – whether it be a cast member in an unknown show or a brand-name show with a basically unknown cast – can lead to the box office cash register ringing loudly and often.

Here are some of the “hooks” which may pay big results this spring and summer.


Tony Shalhoub – His name may not automatically “ring a bell,” but add that Shalhoub was the befuddled crime solver “Monk” on TV for several years and the hook starts to draw causal theatergoers to Broadway. “Act One” is a biography of sorts of the famed Moss Hart. Three actors will play the theater producer in various stages of his life, with Shalhoub playing the eldest version of Hart.

Bryan Cranston – After completing his run on the immensely popular “Breaking Bad,” the Tony Award-winning actor plunges into the role of President Lyndon B. Johnson. With Cranston’s remarkable transformation into LBJ, “All The Way” follows Johnson from the moments after he is sworn into office through his personal struggles during his first and only term in office.

Neil Patrick Harris – Talk about name recognition. The genial TV sitcom performer (“How I Met Your Mother”) may be at the peak of his popularity following praised stints as host of the Tony Awards. Producers are betting that Harris can sell tickets to the punk rock musical, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” The off-Broadway hit, originally starring its writer John Cameron Mitchell as the transgender singer of a fictional band, ran from 1998 to 2000. Harris will play Hansel, who – following a botched sex change operation – becomes Hedwig, with a physical disadvantage … for all that remains is an inch of masculinity.


If a producer is lucky enough to land the rights to a movie engrained in today’s culture, there is no need to open his or her wallet for hefty salaries for the cast. The title of the film can be the hook to woo tourists, especially during spring and summer.

“The Bridges of Madison County” – Neither Clint Eastwood nor Meryl Streep are appearing in the current musical adaptation of the moody, popular movie.

“Aladdin” – Walt Disney comes back to Broadway with another eye-opening musical, this one based upon the 1991 film. Despite a couple of so-so stage versions of animated movies, the Disney name is a sure magnet for the audience of 9 years and under (and their parents). “Aladdin” might just turn out to be another “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King.”

“Bullets Over Broadway” – Woody Allen’s 1994 movie has been a bit updated with a collage score, meaning no original music but all familiar standards.

“Rocky” – Sylvester Stallone is not in the ring, but backstage as producer of the new musical. Despite knowing the outcome of the big fight in the Oscar winning 1976 movie, audiences might want to hear “Yo, Adrian!” one more time.


Ticket sales are reportedly booming for a couple of revivals hitting Broadway stages again. Both of these revivals are true brand name shows that have potentially massive built-in audiences.

“Cabaret” – This revival has the added attraction of Alan Cumming returning to the role of the M.C., for which he won an Tony Award in the revival of the 1966 hit starring Joel Grey.

The show’s title is a hook but as Cumming has an recurring role in the television drama “The Good Wife,” “Cabaret” has a double draw.

“Les Miserables” – My favorite musical ever (as naming my dog “Les Miz” will attest), has returned to Broadway just a couple of weeks ago. The spectacular musical opened in 1987 with Inspector Javert chasing Jean Valjean till 2003. Then “Les Miserables” was brought back in 2006, some say too hastily – I say nay! But after the Oscar-winning movie version a year ago, the creative team’s new adaptation is back on Broadway again … And I say, hurrah!