Where Is Broadway Headed and Do We Need To Do Something About It?

BROADWAY 15Broadway is this amazing amalgam of shows, ticket prices, theatres, artists, producers, marketing and branding agents, and more. For the past 50 years or so there’s been a lot of concern as to where Broadway is going and what will happen to it. The fact is since the 1960s Broadway has fluctuated from periods of financial stability and growth to decline.

Whatever the case may be in the future, the fiscal, moral, artistic, and spiritual wellbeing of Broadway are all a part of the lives of every theatre professional, whether they are working on The Great White Way or involved in an independent, professional theatre in one of the 50 states. Here are some questions that everyone who is involved in the monetary aspect of the theatre needs to ask themselves and answer honestly.

Short or Long Term?

The Phantom of the Opera15Are they looking just at the short term, the next four to 11 months or the long term? By “long term” not “long run,” but the overall health of the business as it relates to all aspects, including audience, industry, art form, etc. This is one of the toughest things to do, calling for a strong alliance of those in the business and the various organizations and unions that serve Broadway and the American theatre.

Artistic vs. Fiscal Balance

6.207210This is yet another difficult undertaking. In balancing the artistic and the fiscal elements of a production, producers are trying to give audiences stellar shows at affordable prices while attempting to make a profit. Many years ago, Off-Broadway was seen as a solution to this dilemma, and to a degree it is still one. Broadway’s dilemma is in maintaining high artistic standards while still being able to provide tickets that are affordable to the general public.

The Next Generation

kids theatre36The future of Broadway, and the entire American theatre, is dependent upon its ability to attract young audiences who will want to keep coming back as they get older and have their own families. The more that can be done now and in the next decade to attract student groups and families the more fiscally sound Broadway and the American theatre will be.

Giving access to student groups in the form of affordable ticket prices, backstage tours, talkbacks, intellegent and reflective study guides, and workshops will go a long way to cultivating tomorrow’s theatregoers. Theatre audiences are aging and those potential theatregoers who are now in school and college communicate, socialize, and make money-spending decisions in an entirely different way than their parents and grandparents.

What Are Fair Ticket Prices?

The Lion King15The hundred million dollar question is “what are fair ticket prices?” How can a show make its nut, pay its investors, and still be affordable for audiences? Popular shows that become award-winners will raise their ticket prices to take advantage of the fact that people want to see the show, whereas those plays or musicals that are having a hard time attracting audiences will lower them considerably.

This “what the market will bear” pricing is understandable; and, yet, if ticket prices were set at a rate that reflects fair value in terms of the show, budget, and a reasonable profit, that type of pricing might actually create a ripple effect for attendance, as seats become affordable to a wider demographic.

Is There Something You Can Do?

empty theatre37Everyone involved in the professional theatre needs to ask themselves what they are doing right and what they can do to improve the current situation on Broadway to provide access. Ticket prices for shows continue to rise and the demographic that can afford such continues to narrow. What can be done?

If the answer is “nothing can be done,” then we think again and become creative. This is not an indictment but a request that everyone honestly evaluate themselves in terms of what they bring to the professional theatre in a positive way, and what they contribute in a negative manner in terms of inhibiting its growth.

th-36A sure sign of the times is that those in their late teens to mid-twenties are uninterested in subscribing to cable-TV. There are now some streaming services available, and more being developed, that can give that demographic what they want and at a much cheaper price. Is there such a solution that Broadway can provide? Does it have to do so?

The basic idea is to ask yourself is there something else that I can do to in some way improve the American theatre by increasing ticket sales while making shows more affordable to all levels of society and preserving high artistic standards? Producing shows is not an easy business, and, yet, at the same time nobody said that it would or should be.

But at this point in time it’s pretty clear that everyone involved has to be totally committed to the ultimate goal, which is hopefully not just extraordinary ticket sales, but, rather, a commitment to a strong artistic product, affordable ticket prices, and the betterment of the American stage. If that can happen on a consistent basis, then the American theatre may see growth on all levels.

Fish in the Dark Continues Big Box Office as Matilda Spikes Up

Larry David must be feeling "pretty, pretty good" about Fish in the Dark.

Larry David must be feeling “pretty, pretty good” about Fish in the Dark.

Larry David’s Fish in the Dark continued its strong run at the box office for the week ending February 22, 2015, while Matilda The Musical’s sales went up more than 13% from the week prior. Musicals that have been running strong, such as The Book of Mormon (102.5%), Aladdin (100.9%), The Lion King (99.8%), and Wicked (96.5%), continued to do so. Helen Mirren in The Audience, which played at 99%, also did healthy box office.

Matilda Gets a Boost

All musicals that were family fare and kid oriented were certainly helped last week by the fact that many schools were on vacation. Matilda saw an increase in capacity of 13.1%, going from 87.1% the week before to 100.2% this past week. Matilda is the story of a young and very bright girl who is abused by her family and the headmistress of her school. She finally finds release from the abuse by using some extra-special kinetic powers as well as by getting some much needed help from her teacher Miss Honey.

Fish in the Dark

Larry David’s comedy about a son dealing with his father’s death is selling as quickly as any show in recent memory. Last week the entire limited run was almost completely sold out. As it did the week before, the Fish in the Dark played to 100.6% capacity, grossing over $1.1 million. The show will be reviewed next week when it opens on March 5, but it’s doubtful that those reviews will have any effect on ticket sales as last week there were fewer than 700 seats left. Tickets for Fish in the Dark start at $49 with the top price being $425. The comedy closes June 14, 2015.

Biggest Spike, Longest Fall

The show that saw the biggest rise in ticket sales was the longest running show in Broadway history The Phantom of the Opera. Phantom saw an increase of 16.1%, going from 62.7% capacity the week before to 78.8% this week. The show that endured the biggest decline was the new musical Honeymoon in Vegas. The musical comedy, which garnered great reviews, has been having a tough time finding an audience. Tickets sales fell 17.2%, as the show played to 47.7% capacity.

Broadway Ticket Sales and Grosses Down Due to Juno

Jackman in The River had a strong week.

Jackman in The River had a strong week.

Box office numbers for the week ending February 1, 2015 published by The Broadway League revealed the impact that the weather had on shows during the final week of January 2015. In terms of capacity, productions that struggled included On the Town (48.51%) and Honeymoon in Vegas (54.17%).

Others that came in on the low side included You Can’t Take It With You (58.08%), Mamma Mia! (64.90%), and Chicago (65.45%). Of those shows, Mamma Mia! and Chicago lost performances due to the weather forecast. The weather-shortened weekend caused grosses to fall from $21,335,320 the week before to $17,504,766 the week ending Feb. 1.

The River Going Strong

elephant 567

Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man also sold well.

The River, starring Hugh Jackman, showed strength, selling 100.13% capacity. The play, which is at Circle in the Square, will close on February 8. Book of Mormon continued to play at over 100% and to out-gross all shows, bringing in $1,423,750. The top grossing shows that were second, third, and fourth were all family oriented musicals with The Lion King bringing $1,337,983, Wicked seeing $1,291,035, and Aladdin selling $1,119,398 worth of tickets.

Fifth on the list was the revival of the Bernard Pomeranz play, The Elephant Man, starring Bradley Cooper. The show, which will transfer to London, grossed $976,936 last week.

Not Just the Weather

Book of Mormon is still going strong.

Book of Mormon is still going strong.

Although slumping box office numbers can be blamed on the weather, it’s more than that. It seems as if this Broadway season many of the new productions have failed to capture the interest of the public, despite the fact that various shows have garnered very strong reviews.

Perhaps the announcement of the Tony nominees on April 28, 2015, will help some shows. Unfortunately, Sting’s The Last Ship could not sustain itself to possibly benefit from the awards. The musical, which did receive good notices, closed on January 24. The Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2015 on CBS.

Everyone will be carefully eyeing February’s weekly numbers. There should be a flurry of Broadway activity in March and April when four shows open in March and 14 more take to the Broadway boards in April just before the Tony cutoff date. Numbers usually spike upwards at that time.

Will Broadway Ticket Sales See an Uptick This Week?

On the Town sees slumping sales.

On the Town sees slumping sales.

As noted in an early story, the months of January and February can be especially tough on Broadway shows. The week ending January 25 (the 35th of the 2014-2015 season) saw almost every show lose ground. This time of year can be a tough sale due to weather, a lack of excess cash due to the holidays, and the overall physical and mental drain people feel this time of year.

Shows in the Plus Column

Shows that showed in creased sales few and far between. Those productions that enjoyed increased volume included Chicago (0.2%), It’s Only a Play (1.9%), Kinky Boots (2.0%), and Mamma Mia! (2.5%). Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and The Book of Mormon were both stable, with the former selling 93% and the latter overbooked at 102.6%.

The big winner was Sting’s musical The Last Ship, which closed on January 24. That show saw an increase of 4%, selling at 87.6%. Although The Last Ship garnered fine reviews, it just could not find an audience.

Slow Sales Overall

Sting appeared in The Last Ship in an attempt to boost ticket sales.

Sting appeared in The Last Ship in an attempt to boost ticket sales.

The Broadway front is seeing slow sales overall. The revival of On the Town, which received excellent notices, was at 60.3% for the week ending January 25, and the new musical Honeymoon in Vegas, which reviewers loved, came in at 71.3%. It will be interesting to see how Honeymoon in Vegas will perform in the next few weeks, and if, overall, as the weather improves, sales will spike up.

Figures for the week ending February 1, 2015 will include an extra dark night for some shows, which closed down due to the storm forecast. That forecast proved to be much ado about nothing.