It is a truism that in order for a straight play (i.e. non-musical) to succeed on Broadway at least one star must be in the cast. While Broadway producers are certainly capable of stupidity, their logic in casting stars does make sense. (That logic also understandably annoys the hell out of all the superb but unheralded actors in New York struggling to make rent money.)
It’s the same arithmetic movie studios use when they sign paychecks to Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts and Emma Watson. Producers have so much money invested and the risk of failure is so high (compared to, say, operating a grocery store) that they are desperate for anything to reduce their risk. Even when that risk-reduction comes at a steep price. Stars sell tickets; sorry, folks, that’s just the way it is. One glimpse (to me, slightly creepy) of this phenomenon is the scene around 11:00 pm at Broadway stage doors as fans jostle to pay homage to their star and get a signature.
I’ve always wondered what it cost a producer to bring these stars to Broadway. Recent scattered news stories have given me an idea. In 2009 Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman appeared for a 12-week Broadway run in Keith Huff’s play A Steady Rain. The Wall Street Journal reported each was paid about $100,000 a week. The Times reported that $100,000 was also the weekly wage paid Matthew Broderick for his return engagement in The Producers.
While $100,000 a week represents a fortune to the vast majority of theatre artists (including certainly playwrights), stars with the heft of Craig, Jackman and Broderick are slumming when they go on stage. Daniel Craig is being paid $15 million (and presumably all the Heineken beer he can drink) for each James Bond movie and Forbes reported that Broderick’s wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, earned $30 million last year.
I am not picking on Craig, Jackman and Broderick. Their stage salaries just happen to be ones I came across in recent reading.
Paying $100,000 a week to these stars proved to be a good investment. Word among Broadway producers was that A Steady Rain recouped (Broadway-ese for earned its investment back) and then some. And The Producers? It ended up printing money for, umm, its producers.