After five years, the Broadway Alliance – one of the few attempts in recent times to bring down the cost of producing and attending plays on Broadway-may be headed for the scrap heap. While some of the Street’s players, notably producer Robert Whitehead, have supported the plan, others have done little more than pay lip service. Now it appears the naysayers have found an important ally in Jed Bernstein, the newly appointed head of Broadway’s trade association, the League of American Theaters & Producers.
Bernstein, who took over in early September following the retirement of Harvey Sabinson, has made a priority of imposing cooperation among his varied-and often conflicting-constituents. A top marketing exec with a passion for the stage, Bernstein wants Broadway to become a brand name people all over the world will identify as synonymous with quality live entertainment. He also wants to bring the investment community back into the Broadway fold.
Unfortunately, neither goal fits well with cut-rate productions.
“This is not an industry famous for taking the long view,” Bernstein concedes. “But if Broadway is going to attract serious business dollars, the industry is going to have to work together. For example, if we get a soft drink company to invest in Broadway, that soft drink will have to be poured in every Broadway theater.”
As for the Broadway Alliance – a cooperative venture between theater owners, producers and the Broadway unions that puts a $750,000 cap on production expenses as well as a $45 top on ticket prices for plays mounted in designated theaters-Bernstein feels a complete overhaul is in the offing. The plan is set to expire in the spring, and will have only one “successful” production to show after five years of effort that began in March 1991 with Steve Tesich’s mordant “The Speed of Darkness,” a fast flop.
The nominal success was last season’s “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” which did manage to repay the cost of its transfer from the Manhattan Theater Club to the Walter Kerr Theater before closing last month.
“The Broadway Alliance is not the answer,” Bernstein avers, echoing the sentiment of Broadway’s most powerful landlord and producer, the Shubert Organization. “But it may provide the structure and the basis of something new. The Alliance is a marketing problem: I have a store; there’s another store called Off Broadway; I better make sure everybody comes to my store as often as possible.”
That other store will be turning up the heat considerably this fall, and even Shubert is getting in on the action, picking up a third of the $700,000 tab for Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” which opens Off Broadway Oct. 22 at the Promenade Theater. That’s an alliance that could bode ill for the future of low-cost plays in the Broadway district.