With Fantasia Barrino’s toplining stint in upcoming stage musical “After Midnight” now confirmed, producers have locked in the Broadway return of the only “American Idol” alum to drive box office to the heights that matched producers’ hopes for the former stars of the Fox reality competish.
When “Idol” first became a ratings powerhouse in 2002, Rialto denizens saw a potential golden ticket: Here was a hugely popular TV show generating new batches of high-profile singers and releasing them into the world, at which point at least some of them could likely be lured to Broadway for B.O.-goosing musical bookings.
But with the supremacy of “American Idol” having crested in the recent years, Barrino has been the standout in the long list of new Broadway thesps yielded by “Idol” over the past decade.
The roster of former “Idol” contestants to land on the Main Stem has included Clay Aiken (“Spamalot”), Constantine Maroulis (“Rock of Ages”), Justin Guarini (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”), Diana DeGarmo (“Hairspray”), Jordin Sparks (“In the Heights”), Tamyra Gray (“Rent”) and Taylor Hicks (“Grease”). Crystal Bowersox (“Always… Patsy Cline”) and Bo Bice (“Pump Boys and Dinettes”) have been announced for upcoming shows, but both of those have since been postponed.
Maroulis, who toplined the revival of “Jekyll and Hyde” on tour and on Broadway earlier this year, and Guarini, whose Rialto credits include “American Idiot” and the upcoming “Romeo and Juliet,” have both grown into regular Main Stem presences, but neither has lit any fires at the box office.
Of all of those past “Idol” entrants, the closest thing to a B.O. driver was Aiken, whose 2008 stint in “Spamalot” drove sales up the week he arrived and prompted a slump the week after he left. (His return engagement later that year yielded less notable sales jumps.)
It’s Barrino, however, who can take a lot of credit for rejuvenating a softening production. Before producers booked her to play the title role, the 2005 musical “Color Purple” had begun to show signs of aging, particularly during Broadway’s traditionally fallow winter weeks. But when Barrino joined the cast in April 2007, sales soared a whopping $365,000, or 40%, returning “Purple” to the millionaires’ club and keeping figures elevated all the way through the year-end holidays.
Whether she’ll show the same kind of box office muscle in “After Midnight” remains to be seen. But just as the diverse audience demo of tuner “Color Purple” seemed to share a generous overlap with Barrino’s own crowd of fans, “After Midnight,” a revue centering on the Duke Ellington years at Harlem’s Cotton Club, also seems a snug fit.
Barrino’s “Color Purple” gig was tubthumped by an announcement on “Idol” and a seg on “Oprah.” The performer, a 2011 Grammy winner who released her fourth studio album in April, hasn’t made any similar publicity moves for “Midnight” yet, although she did tease her upcoming Rialto gig (without naming the show) in an interview on “The Today Show.” Her stint in “After Midnight” begins with the start of previews Oct. 18 and runs through Feb. 9, when producers intend to announce another notable name to fill her shoes.
Although few “Idol” alums have driven Main Stem business at individual titles, many legiters would argue that Broadway overall has benefited from the surge of pop culture prominence for performance-oriented series such as “Idol” and, later, “Glee.” But this fall industry types will nonetheless be watching to see whether Barrino still has the “Idol”-spawned box office power she once did.