Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Broadway: "Recession? What Recession?"

Broadway: "Recession? What Recession?"

United States unemployment has climbed to 9.8% and rising. Experts say the real unemployment rate is significantly higher due to the number who are now chronically unemployed.

Consumer credit plummeted another $12 billion in August as part of the longest series of declines since 1991.

By mid-August, 2.3 million homes were in foreclosure proceedings.

Consumer confidence slid back to just 53.1% last month, no doubt thanks in part to diminishing pay raises. While this year's median pay raise was a paltry 2%, I know more people who received no increase whatsoever this year and aren't expecting one next year.

To quote Superior Donuts' Arthur Przybyszewski, "It's ugly out there." And to place a twist on the response from the play's Lady Boyle, we're not even talking about the weather.

Now, if there is a "bright" side, the Consumer Price Index through September actually decreased by 1.5% year over year, helping ease some inflationary fears. No doubt reacting to the challenging economy, New York City hotel rates dropped by 30% due largely to a drop in travelers.

Yet, right in the heart of Manhattan in that midtown fantastical section -- surrounded, yet unaffected by reality -- known as Broadway, 28 shows are currently treading the boards with several more slated to begin previews over the next few weeks. Never mind that just last December, everyone -- including, regretfully, yours truly -- was engaged in a feeding frenzy, stoking the fear that the recession was spelling the death knell for the Great White Way. Sure, 13 shows closed in January, but many had long since passed their freshness dates, while others were already slated to close before the onslaught of what are traditionally the toughest, coldest months of the year.

Now with over 30 Rialto shows from which to choose by month's end and ticket prices going up, not down, Broadway producers appear out of sync with economic realities. Never mind that Wall Street is miles apart from Main Street, it's the Main Stem that seems to be living on another planet.

How else do you explain how a spare import like A Little Night Music, which I caught during its initial Menier Chocolate Factory run in London for the equivalent of $30, is now selling rear mezzanine seats for $102 and premium seats for $375?! Sure it has the legendary Angela Lansbury and Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones, but the extraordinary ticket pricing smacks of pure greed. No wonder Kevin Daly of Theatre Aficionado At Large dubbed the incoming revival as "A Little Price Gouging."

No wonder Garrett Eisler of The Playgoer voiced a solid "Amen, brother" to his quote of the day from Tim Robbins, who said:

This is exactly the time, when things are falling apart, when the economy is bad, it's the time to drop ticket prices, it's the time to create free nights, it's the time to figure out how to produce even though the economics say "don't produce."
Sure the overall dollar volume earned on Broadway during the 2008-09 Theatrical Season increased from $937.5 million to $943.3 million, but the overall attendance dropped from 12.27 million to 12.15 million meaning the remaining theatregoers are paying more than ever before.

Certainly these numbers are likely to continue moving in the same direction in the short run. However, in the long-term with the economy continuing to sputter, and more potential theatregoers watching their every penny out of fear that they could be the next to lose their jobs, the returns can't help but diminish.

What's the end result? Broadway becomes another vestige of the elite. Some would argue it's already become that. Others would argue, "It's the economy, stupid." I hope those latter voices are heard before it's too late.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 08 October, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

I think ticket prices have been outrageous since before the recession. For someone who doesn't live in New York, I was pretty amazed at the prices before I went to my first Broadway show in 2007.

Luckily, I'm at a point where I can still afford Broadway but I've definitely taken steps to save money, trying to use more discount codes even if that means sitting on the side orchestra instead of the center.

And it's not just Broadway. Tickets for the tour of Wicked, which is coming to Providence in December, range from $53 to $148. I think $148 is a lot of money to spend for a tour!

And I didn't realize there was such a huge price difference between London and New York!

At 08 October, 2009, Blogger vrigsbee said...


You always manage to word things so well. I think Twitter and blogs are helping to spread the word about what free events and tickets are out there, but I do wish more producers would take it upon themselves to do something to acknowledge what's happening in the outside world.

I'm not at all surprised that musical theatre continues to thrive - it's escapist in the best way; but that doesn't mean Broadway can't also be creative.

I'm based out of the Twin Cites and there are a lot of folks here doing neat things - offering a "Pink Slip" discount to patrons without jobs, 99 cent first previews, tickets under $30 for those under 30 ...

Looking at the lines at the TKTS booths and the lottery lists, you can tell patrons are clambering for some help getting in to see the theatre they love without defaulting on their rents in the process.

Broadway will always find those wonderful patrons who fly across the country and pay out the ear for the best seats, but why not get those empty seats in the back row to a new crowd? If the show's not at 100% capacity, producers have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by it - I think it would only launch wildfire word of mouth and create a new group of committed and grateful fans.

Valerie Rigsbee

P.S. I'm working on compiling a list of the current discounts Broadway shows are offering patrons - it should be up on my blog in the next couple days.

At 08 October, 2009, Blogger vrigsbee said...

Here's the discount list I promised:


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