Ain't no mo', theBroadwayDebut of the author and starJordan E. Cooper, opened at the Belasco Theater on December 1 to a sort ofreviewsProducers and playwrights dream. Even the few critics who weren't entirely convinced couldn't help but point out a unique brilliance at work here, not to mention a star-in-the-making cast and more laughs than most of Broadway's others combined. A celebrity-packed opening night with producerLee DanielsGreeting a crowd that included Gabrielle Union, Dwayne Wade and C.J. Uzomah - who happen to be among the standout co-producers - along with Matthew Broderick, Tamron Hall, Deborah Cox, Stephanie Mills, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Susan Kelechi Watson, Camryn Manheim, Tony Kushner, Tituss Burgess, Gayle King, Pat Williams, Christopher Sieber, Jennifer Simard, Colton Ryan, Ari'el Stachel and Timothy Olyphant suggested nothing less than the lively arrival of Broadway's next big thing, outside of the box division.
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Ten days later, Daniels, an early and passionate proponent of the play, announced that the show would end early on Sunday, December 18, after only 22 previews and 21 regular performances.Ain't no mo'should have run until March.
Shortly after the announcement, Cooper took to Instagram to rally support. "Ain't no mo'needs your help!” began a long and fun post. "It's a new original track that is BLACK AF...Now that they've issued an eviction notice, we have to 'close' on December 18th. But thank God black people are immune to eviction notices.”
In a subsequent IG video, Cooper appears as hisAin't no mo'The character Peaches, a flight attendant on African American flight #1619 — yes, the number is exactly what you're thinking — implores ticket buyers to come to the Belasco. "I just got this job and I can't go back to McDonalds, I just don't have the McDouble spirit."
Even those who pay attention to Broadway's weekly box office numbers were shocked, if not surprised. The show - a phantasmagorical fusion of sketch comedy and satire, social commentary and slapstick, belly laughs and unbridled sobs, all the vignettes built around the premise that the US government has decided to solve its "race problem" by She Sends Blacks Back There Africa -- had barely scraped a few coins into its coffers -- in the week after it opened to rave reviews, it grossed a small $164,592 and filled just 47% of the venue's seats with a barely-there average ticket price of around $43.
Still, for a show with so much celebrity influence — not least of which was super producer Daniels himself, who was conquering televisionReichandSternand cinema screens withCostlyandThe Butler by Lee Daniels, to name a few - the advert seems to have at least provided a small grace period to find an audience. A number of celebrity co-producers have been brought on board in recent weeks — at least in large part for the publicity and attention they were able to bestow — and just this week, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith bought an entire performance to show their support. RuPaul and Lena Waithe, both co-producers, plan to host a post-show Q&A this week.
So what happened? And is there really a chance of a reprieve? (There is precedent, of course, and not just for a smash hit likeThe Phantom of the Opera: Over the past year, the acclaimed – and equally whimsical – productions ofIs this a room and Dana H. received two-week extensionsafter early closure notices prompted a surge in ticket sales.
"I have a few last-minute tricks up my sleeve to try and keep this show alive," Daniels says in this Deadline chat with the director and Cooper.
"We don't mind going under," says the playwright, "but we're not going down without a fight."
Directed by Broadway newcomer Stevie Walker-WebbAin't no mo'Features, alongside Cooper, Fedna Jacquet, Marchánt Davis, Shannon Matesky, Ebony Marshall-Oliver and Crystal Lucas-Perry.
The following conversation has been edited and abridged for clarity and length.
DEADLINE:Tell me what's on your mind They opened up to great reviews and announced closure shortly after.
LEE DANIELS:The reality is we're closing but desperately trying to figure out how to get people in the seats because as soon as people see it they go crazy for it. It was so quick, you know. We were just starting to get a foothold and then we realized we were in a hole so it was just a marketing thing how do we get people to watch this show?
DEADLINE:And when did you realize there was a marketing problem and that you were in a [financial] hole?
Daniel:We thought when the reviews came out we'd kinda catch fire, you know. All shows are always a bit behind the backball. I wasn't expecting that... sorry I'm not on it for now, I'm still trying to process it as I speak to you so give me a second. Jordan, do you want to step in?
JORDAN E. COOPER:I keep telling people I'm feeling in a comfort zone right now. You know, I've been doing plays for the public since I was 10 years old, and I've always cheered up the community by going to churches and restaurants and community centers and standing in front of the theaters and handing out flyers for my shows, and now i'm back in a place where i get the community to come out and support and it kinda feels like home. Part of me feels like damn, Jordan, you were stupid for thinking Broadway was something else.
I think what we're seeing on Broadway right now is that it's difficult to put on color shows if you don't have a celebrity lead and you're not based on intellectual property and you don't have a Britney Spears song or a Katy Perry song or a song of the Backstreet Boys somewhere on your show, because right now people are buying safe bet tickets.
When they see Denzel Washington being in something, it's like we don't care what the piece is, we just want to see Denzel Washington, right, or on the contrary, it's like we don't know who's in it, but we know it's about Michael Jackson, so we're going to check it out, right? It's happening right now, but you know someone had to go to DenzelA soldier gamein the 80s for Denzelwilldenzel, right?
For shows likeAin't no mo'who don't have the upper hand having a celebrity or having an IP attached takes time, especially if you're a color show, especially if you're a black show, it takes time to find your audience because people don't know who you are.
where is aAin't no mo'Billboard on Church Avenue? Where is it in Harlem? On 125th Street and Malcolm X? As if there weren't, right? You know, the government is very strategic when it comes to putting liquor stores in black neighborhoods and jails in black neighborhoods. [Broadway] should be as strategic as a government marketing team to reconsider how we put these black Broadway shows in black neighborhoods. The same passion that government has, we should have as a community, to get people to these places to say, hey, you belong here too, to say, hey, something's happening on Broadway and it's affecting you.
One of my favorite stories is about when Lloyd Richards directed itA raisin in the sunon Broadway and he's talking about how he saw a black woman go to the box office -- because it was hard to see a lot of black people go to Broadway back then -- and he saw a black woman go to that box office... and put down two dollars, to let Sidney Poitier inA raisin in the sun, and the box office said, Sorry ma'am, it'll be four dollars, so she took two more dollars and put them down and got her card. So Lloyd Richards went up to her and she doesn't know he's the principal and he says ma'am can I ask you a question? Why would you pay four dollars to see Sidney Poitier on Broadway instead of just paying two dollars to see him in a movie down the road? And she said: There's something going on in my neighborhood that worries me and I need to come and see what it is.
We're at a place right now whereAin't no mo'is a play that affects people in the neighborhood to whom it is not marketed.
Daniel:The thing is, marketing companies as a whole generally don't know how to market African American theater because black people aren't on Broadway, and it's not really meant for us, you know. Broadway isn't for us. So you're dealing with marketing people and strategies that don't exist for us, and we're dealing with marketing teams that don't know how to market our demo.
butAin't no mo'is greater than just the African American experience. All of the [rave] reviews are from white people who have spoken loud and clear about what they think of the material. But we're not putting African Americans in the seats on Broadway. We don't feel comfortable there. When I see a Broadway play, I'm the only black person in the theater. This is about figuring out how to get our people into the theater
COOPER:Even with traditional Broadway audiences being marketed to, it's a bit more difficult when there's no Pulitzer Prize involved or when there aren't out-of-town tryouts they've heard about. if you think about itstrange loop,which is a black masterpiece had the benefit that when they were off Broadway and then the pandemic happened they released the cast album, then won the Pulitzer Prize, then they had a tryout out of town that got a lot of buzz excited and you went straight from out-of-town rehearsals to Broadway with the exact same production, which comes with its own excitement, right? ... Or you think about itslave game, the biggest buzz show in town, and it went straight from off-Broadway to Broadway, so there's that excitement that comes with that already.
WithAin't no mo'We had excitement off Broadway [in the Public Theater] - Steven Spielberg came and Angela Davis came and all these amazing people came and supported the show and they said it was the best thing we've ever seen, but I don't think they People would know what to do with it. It wasn't expected to be as big a hit as Off Broadway, and when the show ended and the pandemic struck, we had nowhere to go. We didn't have a trial outside of town. We don't have a Pulitzer Prize. So it was like, okay, let's try to build this thing from scratch again, right, and it takes time. We haven't even had a chance to put our reviews to work for us.
DEADLINE:When the decision to close was made, was there a chance production could have continued for a few more weeks, or was the financial situation so dire that even that just wasn't possible
Daniel:It was bad. It's bad. The financial burden lies with Lee Daniels. We're in the hole a lot. Hopefully we can turn this ship around. There's a miracle out there.
DEADLINE:Are you saying there's a chance you could revoke the closure or extend the run?
Daniel:The theater is [available] until March. So we have the theater until March. We just have to get out of the hole. We have to sell tickets.
COOPER:We have to get the audience in there. People are hearing about it now becauseRette Ain't No Mo',People who didn't even know the play was in trouble. They thought they had until March to see the show and some people have never heard of this show, didn't even know it existed, didn't even know there was a show like this on Broadway for them. This is really black experimental theater and it's done in a way that I think is commercial and can be done commercially, but people just didn't know it existed. It takes a second to cause a stir.
DEADLINE:Lee, what kind of weekly box office growth would you need to keep the show going?
Daniel:I don't know if I'm comfortable sharing this information. I can't speak numbers. I literally can't give numbers because of my relationships with my other investors.
DEADLINE:Well then let me ask you. What would you have done differently if you had known then what you know now...
Daniel:My intention was to bring Jordan and his words and this cast of brilliant unknowns to Broadway. But a lot of that is also related to Covid, all theater is out and all shows are hit. We're just part of the impact of what's happening on Broadway.
DEADLINE:But some shows do phenomenally well.Funny girlmyth Lea Michele.There Musicman,andSome like it hotseems to arrive. More than ever, there seems to be a very wide gap between the rich and the have-nots in the theater post-Covid. Is there a way to get to a middle location where aAin't no mo'can exist on Broadway?
Daniel:Wouldn't that be great? It would be fantastic if we could get a middle place. I watchedSome like it hotand their marketing campaign. They're putting a ton of dollars into it it seems. You see billboards everywhere. We just don't have that budget.
DEADLINE:But you have a marketing team. Do you have any criticism of how it works or is it...
Daniel:I think it's very difficult to do. The game itself, according to the marketing team's defense, is a tough nut to crack. It is difficult. Jordan's work has never existed on Broadway. There is no template for such a thing.
COOPER:That's exactly what I wanted to say. I wanted to say it's really about them doing what they know. They do what they know.
Daniel:And what they know is not for our show. That's the dilemma we have right now because there's never been anything like it on Broadway that a marketing team could turn their heads around and go out and market it if that makes sense. So I won't drag her. I think they worked diligently and hard to figure out how to market ostrich eggs.
COOPER:It's bigger thanAin't no mo'and that's what I always say when I'm on Twitter saying Broadway marketing needs to change. It's not about our marketing team. It's about how Broadway works. It is about the tools that were built to build the house of the master.
I think Broadway and Broadway marketing especially need to look in the mirror and tell how we're moving because they just aren't equipped with the tools for the new wave of work that's coming on Broadway. That's a conversation we need to have: How do we equip them with the tools to come to us to do the work that needs to be done so that a show doesn't have to close a week after it opens.
DEADLINE:Ain't no mo'latelyannouncements madethat a number of celebrities had joined the team as co-producers [Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union, RuPaul, Lena Waithe, Jeremy O. Harris, CJ Uzomah]. Did that help at the box office?
Daniel:Yes, there was an increase. There was an uptrend then, and there has been an uptrend since we announced our closure, but it'll take a second.
Listen, I've got some last minute tricks up my sleeve to try and keep this show alive. I don't know if they will work.
DEADLINE:What last minute tricks?
Daniel:A magician cannot tell you his tricks. From now on we are officially closing. And I can't tell you my secrets to try and keep the show alive.
[Later in the conversation, Daniels said:] I think if we get some people to buy up houses, until we get traction, until we get enough traction to get viewers to come... I just want to make sure I do That's right because, and I know on record here, this is the conversation-changing type of game.
See, my nephews would rather spend $250 on a pair of Nike sneakers than go to Broadway. You'd rather spend $200 to see Rihanna. But that changes the conversation with them. They would sit in the theater and watch that and spend that kind of money, so it's just about getting people to support us until we get that traction.
COOPER:We don't mind going down, but we won't go down without a fight. We have to fight because we believe in work. This kind of work deserves to be on Broadway. The material... it tastes good. When I found out about the closure notice I was wondering what is it? What is it? Something wrong? Is it the show? And I sit back and watch this show every night and listen to it and I hear this audience. I literally just get hit by crying onlookers. If the ushers didn't evict them from the theater, many of them would just stay in their seats and talk because it's one of those theatrical experiences that doesn't happen every year. It doesn't come every five years or every ten years. It's probably a once in a lifetime theater experience and people say so. The other day we had over 50 people singing in front of the theaterAin't no mo'. That's the work, and the work is delicious, and we just need people to come to the table and get out their knives and forks.