Tomorrow, March 2, Broadway will officially welcome the first Broadway revival of William Gibson's The Miracle Worker. With a title that has endured for decades, it is somewhat amazing that it hasn't been revived on Broadway before. Yet it is equally as shocking that it is being revived now.
It was about seven years ago that a marquis for a revival of The Miracle Worker went up at Broadway's Music Box Theatre. The show was then to star Oscar winner Hilary Swank and Skye McCole Bartusiak. (While Swank was always attached, Broadway historians may remember that Bartusiak actually beat out Taylor Momsen for the role of Helen. Momsen has since found fame being a Gossip Girl. Bartusiak is still waiting for her big break.) After a North Carolina tryout of the production received mediocre reviews, the producing team, led by heavyweights Barry and Fran Weissler, decided not to bring the show in at all. Much of the blame was placed on director Marianne Elliott, with the official statement saying that the NYC mounting was simply delayed while the production was reworked. And if you believe that, I have some rights in the musical In My Life to sell you. It's really great.
The real truth of The Miracle Worker halt was that the show had sold virtually no tickets. Discount offers weren't working. Swank wasn't the draw the Weisslers assumed she would be. They knew that they would have to get rave reviews to spur on the box office. When they didn't receive them in North Carolina (a place not exactly known as a tough tryout town), they didn't think they would get them in New York. It was more politically correct to make Marianne Elliot the fall guy than to say the show's name and Swank just were not big attractions alone.
For awhile it seemed like in order for audience members to see The Miracle Worker on the Great White Way, it would have to be with Madonna as Annie Sullivan. Then producer David Richenthal decided he could make money with The Miracle Worker. And, as I always hope for plays to succeed, I hope he somehow manages to make that happen. But it has never looked good.
The Miracle Worker has an eleven member cast, a fairly large number for a straight play these days. There are a handful of familiar names in the production. However, none of them, not even headliner Abigail Breslin, is the type of star that promises big ticket sales. Director Kate Whoriskey has never helmed a Broadway show. Nothing about the marketing has screamed originality.
This all makes The Miracle Worker a big risk. Sometimes risks pay off and I would not want to see a Broadway that was filled with only the safe. It is indeed unfortunate that more times than not a risk does not bring a reward. Last week The Miracle Worker netted only $164,830. This is a play that will have its fate sealed by the critics. It does not have enough going for it without reviews. Due to Broadway etiquette, I won't speculate on what those reviews will say, but it is doubtful that Richenthal will benefit from a miracle.