Broadway wins one, loses one.
Back in the dark ages of November 2001, two out-of-the-box proposals surfaced to help guarantee that Broadway would still be alive when spring sprung. They were the Season of Savings program that tied discounted theater tix to hotels and restaurants and a plan devised by Theater Development Fund chairman John Breglio to give tax credits to investors in new productions.
Who knew then that global warming would have the greatest positive impact on box office in a post-Sept. 11 Gotham?
“If God wanted to help us, the weather was a godsend,” Breglio says.
Putting the Almighty aside for a moment, producers can be congratulated for fearlessly plowing ahead with “Metamorphoses,” “The Crucible” and “The Goat,” all of which opened March 4-10 and easily surpassed such early March 2001 offerings as “Bells Are Ringing,” “A Class Act” and “Judgment at Nuremberg.”
Sometimes box office is quality-related: B.O. was up 18% from a year ago, with attendance up 7%.
Getting here from Sept. 11 required other unusual feats.
Last fall, marketing guru Nancy Coyne designed Season of Savings, sponsored by the League of American Theaters & Producers, and she immediately predicted it would become an annual winter program. After selling 65,000 tix this winter, SOS now looks ready to go biannual.
“We’ll have another promotion of this sort for all shows to participate in within a month or two for the fall,” says the Serino-Coyne chairman.
League prexy Jed Bernstein confirmed there were “talks” ongoing to create a program for discounted ticket sales between Labor Day and Yom Kippur, historically the worst B.O. weeks of the year.
“We were stronger as a collective than as 14 separate direct-mail sales,” Coyne says of the first Season of Savings. “It is a template for future promotions.” She also credits the program with creating repeat theatergoers from the Tristate area.
Limited runs need limits
As for the big picture, this spring’s plethora of limited engagements could well leave theaters empty and union members unemployed come summer. And there are other troubling signs.
“Advances are still down,” says Shubert chairman Gerald Schoenfeld, an observation echoed by several producers. He and others also are concerned by Broadway’s reliance on reduced-priced tix.
“Selling tickets at a discount is not the name of the game,” Schoenfeld says, since programs such as Season of Savings increasingly teach theatergoers to bargain-hunt. “It is really a situation that has escalated dramatically.”
Meanwhile, the cost of shows continues to skyrocket.
“Where is that risk capital coming from? I don’t know,” Breglio says. Last fall, the lawyer proposed a detailed, complicated plan to offer tax credits to investors.
“That, unfortunately, we couldn’t pull off, not after what Congress just did,” Breglio says of the failed economic-stimulus package. “No one wants to address the long-term question of how we get some relief from the tax code.”
Breglio points to a couple of big musicals on his desk that two years from now will cost $12 million, not the current $10 million for “Sweet Smell of Success” or “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
“It is a truism and a cliche: Broadway is powered by the hit musicals year in and year out. It’s what drives people back to the theater.”
Breglio readily applauds Broadway’s resilience.
“But one more article like that in the New York Times…,” he says of last week’s front-page story on the theater’s fabulous recovery. “Politicians read. It is discouraging to me personally. This incentive is badly needed, and as a business community we can’t let these issues slide.”