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Despite Turnaround, ‘Beetlejuice’ Being Forced Out of Theater

Beetlejuice,” which overcame a sluggish start to become a fan favorite on Broadway, is being evicted from its theater to make room for another musical that promises to be more lucrative.

The Shubert Organization, which is the largest landlord on Broadway, has ordered “Beetlejuice” to vacate the Winter Garden Theater, where its last performance will be on June 6. The musical is being edged out to make way for next fall’s revival of “The Music Man,” a heavily promoted project from the powerful producer Scott Rudin that stars one of Broadway’s most reliable audience draws: Hugh Jackman.

The ouster of a show that is doing well — “Beetlejuice” grossed nearly $1.6 million over Thanksgiving week, setting a record for the Winter Garden — is unusual, reflecting the high demand for limited theater space at a time when Broadway is booming.

“It’s sad and a shame, and also, in its own way, historic,” said Hal Luftig, a “Beetlejuice” co-producer who has been working on Broadway for 30 years. “I don’t think there’s ever been a case when a show has turned itself around in such a fashion and then has to leave its theater.”

It is not clear what will happen next. The producers of “Beetlejuice,” led by the theatrical arm of Warner Bros., are hoping to find another New York theater, but the show’s elaborate set would make such a move expensive. They are also planning a North American tour starting in 2021, and exploring productions in Britain and Australia.

The development is a blow to the show’s investors, who had until now been heartened by the musical’s unexpected (but very on brand) return from death’s door. The show was capitalized for $21 million, and it would be nearly impossible to recoup those costs by June.

“It’s disappointing,” said Mark Kaufman, the executive vice president of Warner Bros. Theater Ventures. “We took the time and we built a hit, and now we’re going to have our life at this theater cut short.”

The stage musical, written by Scott Brown, Anthony King and Eddie Perfect and directed by Alex Timbers, is adapted from the 1988 Warner Bros. release, directed by Tim Burton, about a Goth girl and a pushy poltergeist warring within a haunted house.

In setting a deadline for the musical to leave the theater, the Shubert Organization is invoking a “stop clause” that allows it to oust a show whose grosses fall below an agreed upon level for two weeks in a row.

Invoking such a clause is not unprecedented, but what makes this situation unusual is that although “Beetlejuice” fell below the specified level last May, since then its grosses have rebounded.

The Shubert Organization notified “Beetlejuice” in June — after the Tony Awards — that it had hit the stop clause.

By the time the show rebounded, however, the Winter Garden was already committed to its next tenant: The theater owners had reached an agreement with Rudin that would allow him, more than a year later, to run “The Music Man” there.

The Shuberts sent “Beetlejuice” a formal letter on Oct. 1 informing them that they needed to vacate next spring; “Beetlejuice” is now making its plight public as it puts a final block of tickets on sale.

The announcement will also clear the way for “The Music Man” to announce its plans, which it expects to do next month; until now, the production has taken the unusual step of selling tickets for seats at an unnamed theater, and even on Monday it declined to comment or confirm its venue.

Warner Bros. unsuccessfully broached the idea of a compromise that could satisfy both shows. Among other proposals, the company offered to pay to relocate “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a box office hit also produced by Rudin, from the Shubert Theater to a smaller house, so “The Music Man” could be staged at the Shubert while “Beetlejuice” remained at the Winter Garden.

But the two production teams could not agree on a price tag.

“It’s no secret that the producer of ‘Music Man’ wanted that theater,” Luftig said. “If I had one wish, I wish they could have all sat down to think of a Plan B, because we’re in a precarious situation now.”

The Shubert Organization declined to comment for this article, other than to say: “If an appropriate theater becomes available, we would certainly talk about moving the show.”

“Beetlejuice” has already overcome several obstacles. The show’s 2018 pre-Broadway tryout in Washington was panned by the Washington Post critic Peter Marks. It was revised before opening on Broadway in April, but was greeted in New York with mixed reviews (in The New York Times, an unimpressed Ben Brantley called it “absolutely exhausting”); it was then nominated for eight Tony Awards but won none.

The show brought in $818,904 in its first full week after opening, which was below its stop clause. But, after a boffo and much-viewed performance on the Tony Awards broadcast, it began to rebound midsummer, and has grossed over $1 million most weeks since mid-July.

The show’s advance — the value of tickets sold for future performances — has doubled over the last six months, to $7.6 million, during a period when most see their advances drop. Just last week, the show sold 16,586 advance tickets worth $1.7 million, according to Matt Polk, a spokesman for the production.

In fact, every financial indicator has been pointing up: The advance has risen in 16 of the last 17 weeks; the average ticket price has grown; and group sales are way up, Polk said.

The reversal of fortune has been fueled by strong word of mouth, particularly among first-time theatergoers, and a shift in marketing strategy, which pivoted from emphasizing the show’s irreverence to celebrating its sense of fun.

The “Beetlejuice” cast recording has been streamed 100 million times, and the performers have worked hard to promote the musical, whose opening number, “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing,” has been given lyrics tailored for television appearances, most recently on “The View” and at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The production has also courted ardent enthusiasts (and repeat attenders) dubbed “Netherlings.” There have been costume contests, and fan art is displayed backstage. And the show is among the first on Broadway to thrive on TikTok, a popular mobile app used to make and share short videos.

“I sit in all these Broadway League meetings where they talk about building a new audience for Broadway,” said an obviously frustrated Kaufman. “Once we started building that audience, it started to take off — we are the textbook definition of word of mouth.”

Kaufman said that, over the next seven months, he would try to sustain the show’s momentum in hopes of keeping it alive. “We’d be foolish to give up,” he said. “You don’t work this hard to not power on.”

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