“Paradise Square,” a dance-heavy Broadway musical about race relations in Civil War-era New York City, will wrap up Sunday, after weeks of trying to overcome lingering sales.
The musical, which began previews on March 15 and opened on April 3, was a failed comeback bid by famed producer Garth H. Drabinsky, who, after winning three Tony Awards in the 1990s, has been convicted of fraud in Canada and served a sentence there. Located in Lower Manhattan in 1863, it is a low-income neighborhood in which African Americans and Irish immigrants formed a community that was disrupted by the Civil War riots. The musical is big, with a big cast and plenty of production numbers, and won praise for the central performance, from Joaquina Kalukango, as well as the choreography, from Bill T. Jones and others.
He was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, but only won one, for Kalukango. His catchy Tony Award performance of the show’s 11-hour number, “Let It Burn”, was well received, but the night did not translate to enough ticket sales to keep the show alive.
“We wanted to give ‘Paradise Square’ every chance to succeed, but various challenges proved insurmountable,” Drabinsky said in announcing the closure.
The show has had a long and complicated history. It started ten years ago as “Hard Times”, by Larry Kirwan of the band Black 47, and early productions, at Cell in New York, relied heavily on the music and story of the life of Stephen Foster, the 19th century songwriter.
In the years that followed, with Drabinsky at the helm, he repeatedly changed book authors and expanded other parts of his creative team; he also increasingly distanced himself from Foster’s music and biography. Before Broadway, there was a production at the nonprofit Berkeley Repertory Theater in California and a commercial in Chicago; neither was particularly well received, but production continued, confident that word of mouth would be strong.
The Broadway production couldn’t break through during a competitive season, with tourism still down due to the coronavirus pandemic and a slew of new shows all vying for attention. “Paradise Square,” with an unknown title, an infamous cast, and lackluster reviews, couldn’t find its footing; it always sold far less than other Broadway musicals and far less than it needed to pay its weekly running costs; in the week ending June 5, he grossed a meager $229,337 and played in houses that were only 59% full.
The musical was capitalized up to $15 million, according to a recently updated filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This money will be lost.