NEW YORK – January is usually a pretty chilly month on Broadway. But this year, the post-holidays could be a little colder than normal. "Hairspray" and "Monty Python's Spamalot," both long-running, Tony-winning best musicals, are closing up shop.
"Spamalot" pulls up the moat for good on Jan. 18 after more than 1,500 performances. No word yet on its replacement in one of Broadway's most visible theaters, the Shubert located on 44th Street just west of Times Square.
The show, a Mike Nichols-directed adaptation of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," has grossed more than $175 million in New York since opening in March 2005 and has been seen by more than 2 million people.
"Hairspray" will have had an even longer run — more than 2,600 performances — by the time it folds Jan. 4 at the Neil Simon Theatre. But the show, based on John Waters' cult movie classic, is going out with its original star, Harvey Fierstein.
The actor will return to the musical, which opened in August 2002, for its last eight weeks, Nov. 11-Jan. 4. He will reprise his Tony-winning role of Edna Turnblad, the goodhearted mother of Tracy Turnblad, would-be TV teen dance star in 1960s Baltimore.
"Hairspray" has grossed more than $265 million during its Broadway run and was made into a movie musical with John Travolta in the Fierstein role.
There's no decision yet on what will go into the Neil Simon, a desirable 1,400-seat theater that usually houses musicals. But Variety has reported a possible tenant next fall could be the American company of "Dirty Dancing," which just opened in Chicago and will play Boston and Los Angeles in 2009.
Other Broadway closings are likely in January.
"I suspect we have to be adjusting for the long haul," says Victoria Bailey, executive director of the Theatre Development Fund, which runs the Times Square TKTS discount ticket booth. "It's not just about the next month. I think the first place where one might begin to understand and experience it will be the holiday season."
Business is fine during the Thanksgiving and Christmas-New Year's weeks and then plummets — except for big shows such as "Jersey Boys" and "Wicked" — as the tourists go home and children are back in school.
One little show that is trying to buck the trend is "The 39 Steps," a small-scale spoof of the classic 1935 Alfred Hitchcock cinematic theater. The comedy just announced it is moving Jan. 20 to a new theater, the Helen Hayes, vacated last month by the musical "Xanadu."
It's the third theater for the little English show, which has played the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre and is at the Cort until Jan. 11. The production has rarely had a money-losing week, according to producer Bob Boyett.
"It's a phenomenon I totally cannot explain," Boyett said. "The irony is that it's exactly the same as what we've experienced in London." There, the producer said, "The 39 Steps" is playing at a theater in Picadilly Circus, a high-tourist, high-traffic area, where the show can "sell a huge number of tickets on the day of performance.
"I think we are a show that is a last-minute decision, a show that gets really good word of mouth and people have it in the back of their minds," he added. And walk-in business should be even better at the Helen Hayes, located on a prime, high-tourist block of West 44th Street, off Times Square, Boyett said. It is better than the Cort, one of the few theaters east of Broadway and on a West 48th Street block near Sixth Avenue.
The Cort, though, has snagged a new tenant, too. Will Ferrell will be making his Broadway debut in a one-man show, "You're Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush." The production will run Jan. 20-March 15 with an opening set for Feb. 1, producer Jeffrey Richards said.