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The Margin: ‘Stranger Things’ on Broadway? A potential production could cost $50 million-plus

Forget “Hamilton.” Could Broadway’s next mega-hit be a show based on the popular Netflix
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series “Stranger Things”?

At least that’s what the streaming network and “Stranger Things” creators the Duffer Brothers may be hoping. Netflix recently revealed it is behind “a new stage play set within the world and mythology” of the series, created in partnership with producer Sonia Friedman and director and producer Stephen Daldry.

The Netflix announcement didn’t specifically mention Broadway or give a timeframe for when the show would open. But most theater-world insiders say it’s unlikely the play could be targeted for anything but the industry’s biggest platform.

Adding to that likelihood, they say, is the fact that Friedman is aboard the project: She’s the producer behind “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the work that brought the J.K. Rowling character of book and cinematic fame to a theatrical audience. After premiering in London’s West End, the Potter play opened on Broadway in April 2018 and is still running today, though it returned from a pandemic hiatus in condensed form, shortened from two parts into one. The production won six Tony Awards in 2019, including the top honor of best play.

There’s hope that a “Stranger Things” show could give Broadway yet another boost as it tries to regain the record-breaking ticket sales it enjoyed before the pandemic. There’s also a certain fervor among “Stranger Things” fans about the possibility of seeing their favorite characters come to life in an entirely different — and live — medium. Some were already making predictions about which actors could portray certain characters. (One suggested that Patti LuPone, known for her temperamental personality, could play the evil Venca.)

Still, there are no guarantees when it comes to Broadway, where well more than 50% of productions fail to recoup their investment. And that’s often the case with shows derived from hit movies or other popular franchises.

“The streets are littered with successful brands that couldn’t make the transition to another medium,” said veteran Broadway producer Ken Davenport. He cites “Big The Musical,” based on the beloved Tom Hanks film, as a prime example: The show lasted less than half a year on Broadway.

Perhaps the biggest question some are asking about a “Stranger Things” play: How can a theatrical work inspired by the series succeed in translating its bizarre visual spectacle, particularly its “upside down” hellacious world that mirrors the real world? Or, at least, the world of Hawkins, Ind., the fictitious town that is the main setting for the series, whose fourth season recently concluded.

Broadway producers agree that, if nothing else, it’s going to take a lot of money to pull off this feat. A typical Broadway play has a budget of around $3 million to $5 million, but “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” reportedly cost $35.5 million to produce, plus another $33 million that was needed to redo the Broadway theater where it’s housed in order to accommodate the show.

Jamie Forshaw, a theatrical executive with the entertainment company Madison Wells, says it wouldn’t surprise him if the “Stranger Things” show has a similar budget. “You’re looking at $50 million-plus,” he said.

If that’s the case, it would make “Stranger Things” one of the priciest Broadway projects to date.

Netflix officials didn’t respond to a MarketWatch request for an interview about the show. A representative for Friedman’s production office said, “We will share more information in due course.”

Even if the show’s budget is half the figure that Forshaw suggests, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on producers to sell tickets. And yet, some theater professionals don’t see that being a problem.

Victoria Cairl, a theater marketing veteran, points to the fact that “Stranger Things” has a broad base of fans, including an older cohort that appreciates the nostalgia aspect of the set-in-the-‘80s series and a younger one that relates to the characters for the adventurous youngsters they are. As Cairl explains, that means a theatrical version should attract a similarly broad audience, which is integral to succeeding on Broadway.

“You need a show that multiple generations can go and enjoy together,” she said.

Plus, Cairl and others say if anyone knows the formula for success in creating a winning adaptation for a pop-culture juggernaut, it’s Friedman and her team. The Potter show, which has grossed $47 million on Broadway and has become a global theatrical phenomenon with multiple productions, has been widely praised for evoking the world of wizardry inherent in the Potter brand.

“I can’t wait to see what Friedman does with ‘Stranger Things,’” Cairl said.

The “Stranger Things” play isn’t the only plans that Netflix has for the hit show. Also in the works: a live-action spinoff series.

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