Fest sparks D.C. tourism rebound

WASHINGTON — The tourists are coming. The tourists are coming. And it’s about time.

Credit the Kennedy Center for helping to revive D.C.’s moribund tourism economy, which has been in the tank since Sept. 11.

Its upcoming festival of six musicals by Stephen Sondheim registered a one-day record for single ticket sales Feb. 11. The box office sold $639,000 in tickets that first day of sales at a $76 top, eclipsing the previous single-day champ, “Beauty and the Beast,” in 1996 ($526,000). The Center’s Web site also was popular, receiving 55 requests per second for info on the festival.

At week’s end, sales had topped $3.3 million, including $2 million in advance subscription and group sales.

Global interest

Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser was surprised and ecstatic over the B.O. stampede, which came from all over the world. Calls were reported from Australia, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, the U.K. and 41 states.

“Sweeney Todd,” “Company” and “A Little Night Music” are likely to be the first of the shows to sell out, said Kaiser, who said the marathon event already is demonstrating Sondheim’s popularity with auds.

The center expects ticket sales to reach the $6.5 million target for the festival, which runs May 10-Aug. 25. An additional $3 million will be raised from donors, including a New York City couple who called the day after the festival was announced to donate $100,000.

But the Sondheim Celebration is not the facility’s only boffo event. Its Opera House is currently at capacity for a two-week visit by the Kirov Ballet and Opera, the first of a 10-year agreement to book the two companies here annually.

It also reports that sales are finally reviving for “Sheer Madness,” the tourist staple encamped in a third floor theater. The show had been particularly hard hit by the meltdown in out-of-town visitors.

Meanwhile, other theaters also are cheering a business upturn. Ford’s Theater said spring bookings of school groups, which were canceled in droves last fall, are resuming a more normal pace.

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