As a lifelong Superfan of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s astounding Jesus Christ Superstar rock opera, I was looking forward to the 54 city tour of the revival starring the Supercast of Michelle Williams (Destiny’s Child), JC Chasez (‘N Sync), Brandon Boyd (Incubus), and even the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten as the vile King Herod. Unfortunately the production whose costs had ballooned to “eight figures” needed several hundred thousand dollars in ticket sales at each stop just to break even and it seems that there aren’t that many Superfans out there to shell out the money, so this tour is no more. The implosion of this massive theatrical tour is a vivid indication to event promoters everywhere that it doesn’t really matter what your production is, all that matters is if you can get enough people to buy tickets.
The production priced itself out of its 54 markets
The Supercollapse of this Jesus Christ Superstar tour can’t be blamed to inexperienced producers, as it was Webber’s Really Useful Group combined with Rolling Stones promoter Michael Cohl’s S2BN Entertainment. The problem was that the cost of the production had reached such stratospheric levels that it priced itself out of all 54 markets in which it was planning to play. Not that the producers were expecting any aspect of this production to be modest, as they had booked massive venues like Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Staples Center in Los Angeles. When you add up all of the available seats you coming up with a figure well over a million, and getting that many people to shell out for tickets which topped out at well over $200 proved to be a task that was too difficult even for Superproducers such as Webber and Cohl. Facing far too many empty seats the show was cancelled just days before its premiere at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.
Refunding tickets to an event is the nuclear option
Simply because the producers have agreed to refund all tickets doesn’t exactly make this a wash for everyone involved, as this production of Jesus Christ Superstar cost millions of dollars without even premiering. All of the costs of mounting the production, hiring the Superstars, booking the arenas, marketing the tour, and the myriad other factors which go into such a gargantuan national theatrical tour are completely and irrevocably lost. Every event producer worth their salt is well aware that refunding tickets of an announced show is the nuclear option and that is one that will leave the entire production company radioactive for years to come.
Cohl was behind the Broadway Spider-Man musical disaster
There may have been one little hint to the possibility of the Superimplosion of this Jesus Christ Superstar
tour in that Cohl is not only the promoter for the Stones but was also behind the most expensive musical fiasco in theatrical history, the completely outrageous (and to be fair, incredibly unlucky) Broadway production of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark
. This show was so fundamentally misconceived, horrifically staged, and featured a revolving door of writers and directors that the reviews were horrific even before the poor actors began falling from their harnesses high over the audience to incur severe injuries below. So terrible was this Spider-Man musical and its P&L sheet that the exact toll of financial losses suffered by the investors has never been made public.
Producing a huge event is never as easy as Mickey Rooney made it look when he jumped on a makeshift stage and exhorted “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” The wise event producer benefits from careful consideration of balancing the costs of the production versus the likelihood of selling enough tickets to turn a profit. It’s basic business sense but it seems that in the high-powered world of huge musical productions, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that if you can burn enough millions of dollars “they will come.” The truth is that today’s audience is selective and is going to react to events which can demonstrate a strong value proposition, not just an enormously bloated budget.