Producers seek to cut costs, save shows as auds dry up
Facing one of the biggest crises in the history of the industry, Broadway had a tumultuous week in the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy, as producers closed shows and struggled to keep others afloat.
Box office figures for the week following the Sept. 11 attack were dire as visitors fled the city, canceled trips or just stayed glued to the tube. B.O. fell from more than $9 million to $3.5 million.
Most shows played to largely empty houses over the weekend after the attacks, and five shows announced plans to shutter on Sept. 23: “Stones in His Pockets,” “If You Ever Leave Me … I’m Going With You,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “The Rocky Horror Show” and “A Thousand Clowns.”
Most of those productions were limping along anyway, but more disturbing was the outlook for the long-running tourist shows that rely almost exclusively on audiences from outside the city.
As visitors canceled travel plans for fear of further terrorist attacks, B.O. plummeted at such Broadway mainstays as “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables” and “Rent.”
However, by the end of the week, the industry had begun to fight back.
Producers of five shows — the aforementioned trio as well as “The Full Monty” and “Chicago” — asked for and received concessions from the baskstage union, the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
Union employees accepted a 25% pay cut for four weeks that’s designed to keep the shows running until the immediate aftershock wears off and tourists start returning to the city. The pact covers stagehands and employees handling box office, scenery, wardrobe, makeup, props and publicity.
“The recent attack devastated the country and our city in particular,” IATSE prexy Thomas Short said. “This joint effort is being done in the spirit of cooperation between New York locals, the IATSE and the League of American Theaters and Producers as a necessary step to preserve the jobs of our members and others.”
The accord came following several emergency meetings between union reps and members of the league, and was followed by concessions from the other Broadway unions for the same five shows.
But producers of other shows were taken by surprise by the announcement; some expected the league to take the lead in negotiations for all shows, and were left to try to work out similar deals on their own (see story, page ).
The theater owners themselves have also taken steps to waive rents and are negotiating with producers on a show-by-show basis.
Despite the apparent discord and the gravity of the B.O. slump, producers were trying to emphasize the stability of the season.
A signal of the general rally was the flip-flopping of “By Jeeves,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical set for the Helen Hayes. On Sept. 19 the show was canceled; the next day it was reinstated (see story, page ).
And voices of support rallied to jumpstart the city’s suddenly crippled tourist economy.
New York City tourism chief Christyne Lategano-Nicholas held a press conference on Sept. 19 in front of the Eugene O’Neill Theater, home to “The Full Monty,” to kick off the city’s how-must-go-on campaign, so new it has yet to be given a slogan.
A TV commercial promoting Broadway will begin airing as soon as this week, she said, while presenting a busload of senior citizens from Minnesota who’d come to town to see “The Music Man.”
Lategano-Nicholas informed that eight conventions forced to canceled the week of Sept. 10-16 had rescheduled in Gotham and the Intl. Hotel Assn. is currently negotiating to move their next convention from Paris, as originally planned, to New York, “as a sign of confidence in the city.”
Also at the press conference, League prexy Jed Bernstein announced that the legit trade org would move its planned biannual confab from Havana, Cuba this November to Gotham.
Road to recovery
“Broadway will recover,” says Nederlander VP Nicholas Scandalios. “It’s just a question of when.”
He pointed to a 10% cancellation rate on Sept. 18 at shows booked in Nederlander theaters, down from 50% the week before.
A quick eyeball tour of West 44th Street theaters on the same night provided a picture of varying resilence.
“The Producers” was at 100% capacity, after the previous week’s 83%. Across the street, “Dance of Death” played to around 90% in only its third preview.
Neither it nor “The Producers” sold discounted tickets at the TKTS booth.
Next door, the long-running “Chicago” had cap figures at about 60% after last week’s 37.8%.
Only “The Phantom of the Opera,” giving its 5,689th perf, put in capacity numbers slightly under last week’s 43%. Broadway’s second-longest-running show, after “Les Miserables,” the Lloyd Webber tuner relies on out-of-towners for 70% of its audience.As for future shows, rumors flew that money was hemorrhaging, but most were vowing to stick it out.
“The Nederlander money is in place,” says Scandalios. The Nederlands are producing “Noises Off” with others.
“The new shows are selling well,” he adds, referring to the Michael Frayn farce and Neil Simon’s “45 Seconds from Broadway,” both coming to Nederlander houses.
“Absolutely, we’re on track,” says Beth Williams, Clear Channel VP in charge of “Sweet Smell of Success,” to open on Broadway in spring 2002. “Our ticket sales in Chicago are extraordinarily strong. Chicago has already shown us the motivation to keep going.”London’s Sacha Brooks, along with producer John Ried, remain committed to the incoming “Graduate,” starring Kathleen Turner and Alicia Silverstone.
“Nothing has changed, and I’m in New York right now to establish that fact,” says Brooks. “Any cast we had is still attached, as are investors.”
He plans rehearsals for “The Graduate” in December, with a three-city mini-tour before opening on Broadway in April, theater to be determined.
“None of our money has backed out,” says Hal Luftig, lead producer on spring arrival “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
He admits there was a “big powwow” after the terrorist attacks to discuss the show’s future. “There were a few moments where we thought, ‘What the hell are we doing,’ but collectively we are moving forward. The show reflects New York at an innocent time. We’re going to tell this story.”