THE producers of "Shimada," an Australian play about East-West cultural and economic friction that opened on Broadway last week, hoped it would improve Japanese-American relations. A Japanese investor put up one-third of the $1.5 million cost of the play (featured in Monitor article April 23). It was widely panned by New York critics, however, and closed April 26 after four performances.
"It's always a question of economics," says Harvey Sabinson, executive director of the League of American Theaters and Producers. The survival of "Shimada" would have required "a very good review in The New York Times."
Without favorable reviews, "there was no ammunition we could use to advertise," says Keith Sherman, publicist for the play. The Polish musical, "Metro," which had played to packed houses in Warsaw for more than a year, opened April 16 to poor reviews and also closed last weekend.
Peter Smith, dean of Columbia University's School of the Arts, suggests that both Broadway's high artistic standards and the relatively new practice of offering New York City previews rather than out-of-town tryouts (where flaws are often removed) may have played a role. "Maybe neither play would have come to Broadway under the old setup, at least not in the state they were."
Some producers who face bad reviews are willing to dig deeper into their pockets to keep a play running, hoping that word of mouth or advertising will make the play a hit, says Arnold Aronson, chairman of Columbia University's theater division. "Grease," for instance, did not get top reviews but became a long-running musical, he says. But "serious plays have trouble surviving in this atmosphere anyway."