Broadway B.O. takes a major hit

With access to some theaters restricted, Off B'way numbers tumble

NEW YORK — Now the reality sets in.

After a weekend of patriotic curtain-call speeches and strains of “God Bless America,” Gotham’s legit producers woke up Monday to chilling B.O. figures.

Off Broadway appears to have been hit hardest, with reports of business being off by up to 80%. Unlike Broadway, where all 23 shows reopened on Thursday, at least 10 current Off Broadway shows are located in theaters below 14th Street, an area of town that did not reopen for business until Friday.

On Monday, at least four Broadway shows posted closing notices for this Sunday. They included “A Thousand Clowns,” “If Ever You Leave Me” and “The Rocky Horror Show.” The fourth, “Blast!,” had posted a notice two weeks ago for a Sept. 23 shuttering. Rumors abounded that at least one play and one musical might join that list today, the day of the week shows customarily post notices for an end of the week closing.

On Sunday, Mayor Rudy Giuliani said at a press conference that people could help most by visiting New York City. “Maybe now you can get tickets to ‘The Producers,’ ” he added.

It wasn’t far from the truth. The Mel Brooks musical performed “near capacity,” according to John Barlow, the show’s publicist. Cancellations numbered about 150 per perf, with Nathan Lane having canceled all but Thursday’s performance due to illness. Lines averaging from 200 to 300 people bought up those tickets, but what could not be resold were tickets held by those who did not notify the theater of their cancellations.

For five performances, the show did $546,858, as opposed to topping its $1,042,163 gross potential, which it always does for eight perfs.

“The Lion King,” for the first time in its four-year run, did not sell out. The musical came in at $561,585 on a newly adjusted gross potential of $750,456 for six performances, doing 69.4% capacity.

Other side of the coin

On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Blast!” did $52,433 for four performances on its adjusted gross potential of $451,203, playing to 13% capacity. As for the other shutterings, it was written in the capacity numbers: Last week, “Clowns” performed at 19.2% cap, “Rocky Horror” at 32.1% and “If Ever You Leave Me” at 12.7%.

By comparison, “Contact” performed at 58.8% capacity.

Long-running shows like “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera” had final figures of $94,515 and $185,489, respectively, on adjusted gross potentials hovering around the half million mark.

After Thursday night’s performances, one producer commented that it was “not the disaster I’d expected.” Apparently, several sources in the theater, from actors to publicists to producers, remarked that audience attendance appeared to weaken as the shows went into their weekend performances. Usually, the B.O. numbers for weekend performances are significantly higher than for weekday perfs.

One legit observer speculated that tourists stranded in the city on Thursday went to the theater, but that those out-of-town ticketholders decreased as the airports reopened.

After a Friday meeting, the legit unions and various members of the League of American Theatres and Producers reconvened on Monday afternoon for another emergency meeting on the future of Broadway.

Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization, said, “We are asking for concessions on a show-by- show basis.” He would not specify what those concessions were.

Reportedly, a representative of Cameron Mackintosh proposed that there be an across-the-board reduction in wages of 30% from the minimum, to be recovered should a show go above its break-even figures.

The league also asked for a waiver of the one-week closing notice period.

As for the theater owners, it was mentioned that rent had been waived last week on so-called endangered shows.

“I hope the league and the unions come up with an agreement that helps the entire industry,” said Jordan Roth, producer of the “Rocky Horror Show.” “I don’t know if they would have been able to come up with something quick enough and substantial enough to save ‘Rocky Horror.’ ”

The various unions and guilds must now go back to their exec boards. Those meetings are expected to take place on Wednesday and Thursday, with the various legit orgs reconvening with the league on Friday.

“The producers floated the idea of 30% pay cuts, but they never asked us outright,” said one union exec. “They put the onus on us to do something. Very little specifically was proposed, except for the waiver of the one-week period on closing notices. I doubt if that will pass with our executive board. It’s psychologically very damaging to put up and take down a notice on a daily basis.”

‘Stones’ thrown

On Monday, Emanuel Azenberg contemplated closing his production of “Stones in His Pockets,” which grossed a mere $34,691 last week. As for Monday’s league confab with the unions, he could only wish for the best. “I’m hopeful that the proposals presented will be acted on with alacrity,” the producer said. “Hopefully a few shows can be preserved. I don’t believe that every show will be preserved no matter what is done.”

Harriet Slaughter, the league’s head of labor relations, could not be reached for comment.

Off Broadway is keeping a close eye on the league’s negotiations with the unions. “Right now we disseminating information from Actors Equity,” said Ben Sprecher, an Off Broadway producer and theater owner. “There’s no formal action yet, but we plan to follow the league’s action,” he said of the Off Broadway League. “At this moment, we’re advising members on a case-by-case basis.

Robyn Goodman, producer of the Off Broadway shows “Bat Boy” and “Tick, Tick … Boom,” said costs had to be reduced “both retroactively and looking forward. Right now, we’re doing everything, talking to newspapers and landlords and unions to help us support these losses.”

Marc Routh, president of the Off Broadway League, could not be reached for comment.

As one producer put it, “This is not us versus them, the unions. We have to find a way to make this work. There’s no reason to believe that this week’s business will be any better than last week’s.”

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