Service off to a bang, sans Disney, Livent

NEW YORK — Broadway’s just dialed up an important new marketing tool. Hoping to do for theater what MovieFone did for cinema, the League of American Theaters & Producers, along with several co-sponsors, is launching a nationwide toll-free information and ticket-purchase telephone line.

Just don’t expect “The Lion King” or “Ragtime” to answer.

The service, considered by many in the business to be much needed and long overdue, gives callers information about, and purchase options for, Broadway productions — provided those productions are produced by League members. Neither the Walt Disney Co., producer of “Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” nor Livent, which has the upcoming “Ragtime,” are members of the producers’ trade organization.

The Broadway Line (call (888) 411-BWAY nationally or (212) 302-4111 in the New York tristate area) began operation Dec. 11. Callers can access information about the Broadway lineup, specific shows, locations and ticket prices and then be connected to Ticketmaster or Telecharge to make a purchase.

Missing shows

One service option allows callers to dial the first three letters of a show title to get ticket information, theater location and plot synopsis. But push the first three letters for “Lion King,” and you’ll get an earful about “The King and I.” RAG prompts info about “Miss Saigon.” No match at all could be made for BEA (“Beauty and the Beast”).

“This is a service on behalf of League members,” League exec director Jed Bernstein explains.

Both Disney and Livent have resisted entreaties to join the League, preferring to negotiate their own union contracts.

“Lion” or not, the Broadway Line got off to a roaring start, with 600 calls logged within 90 minutes of the service’s unveiling Dec. 11 on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.” The talk hostess made the first call to order tix for “Triumph of Love.”

The phone service is co-sponsored by the New York Times and Continental Airlines, with technology developed by Lucent Technologies. All three companies, as well as the League, get plugged in the service’s recorded greeting.

Callers also can option a trivia quiz and hear promotional messages from Broadway stars.

Going nationwide

Bernstein says the service will be expanded within three months to include information on theaters across the country. The League has member theaters in 90 markets throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Unlike the commercially operated MovieFone, the Broadway Line does not impose a surcharge. However, Ticketmaster and Telecharge surcharges apply. The information service will be available 24 hours a day, while purchasing is limited to Telecharge and Ticketmaster hours of operation (8 a.m. to midnight).

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