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B’way B.O. upgrades

A recent episode of “The Apprentice” pitted the high school grads against the Ivy League kids in a battle over who could sell the most Burger King burgers. No surprise, those contestants with the fancy diplomas lost. As Donald Trump‘s crusty, trusted right-hand man, George Ross, put it, “You blew it at the point of retail: the cash register!” Only the high school grads knew how to operate them.

Legit reporters rarely bother with Broadway’s point of retail: the box office. Doesn’t everyone buy at discount, phone for house seats or pick up a pair of freebies on preem night?

I recently went the old-fashioned route and purchased tix at the box office! A cousin is visiting with his 13-year-old daughter and, like many tourists, they haven’t yet heard of “Wicked” or “Spamalot.” Instead, their top choices were “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and that “new” show “Hairspray.”

Looking six weeks in advance, I found few tix offered at $100 in center orch. Curious, I started to ask for any weekday perfs at $100 in February and March. The choices didn’t improve much.

Has Broadway, with its new “premium-price” tix, gone the way of the Metropolitan Opera, where center orchestra seats cost much more than those on the sides?

Here’s what was available center orch for midweek in February/March:

“Phantom” had tix in the last four rows. “Beauty” had Row 17 for March 8. (Rear orch at the Met is cheaper than side orch, it should be noted.)

“Fiddler” had Row 8 for March 31. When I dared to ask that he check on earlier dates, the man at the Minskoff box office shot back, “I already know what those are!” The guy at “Hairspray” was a peach. “If you need center orchestra, come back a day or two in advance,” he advised.

On Broadway, depending on how they are selling, house seats are released at 48 hours before, 24 hours before and 6 p.m.

The return of unsold premium seats is different. “It is very fluid — it is managed daily,” says Broadway Inner Circle CEO Joe Farrell. Producers chart what percentage of premiums are sold X days out and make future projections based on those numbers. “It is a science still being developed,” Farrell admits.

Shows in Shubert and Nederlander theaters post a premium-tix sign at the box office. Jujamcyn uses Broadway Inner Circle. At no box office are would-be ticket buyers advised that better seats are available at the higher $150-$250 price. It is an industrywide policy: You have to ask. “We don’t ever want a consumer thinking they’re being shoved into premium seats,” Farrell says.

Other sources reveal that most unsold premium tix go to the box office 48 hours before curtain, and only about 50% of those set aside are actually sold at the top price. Most producers declined to give numbers, but a few were secure enough in their show’s success to disclose the number sold for a typical week of perfs.

“The Lion King” averages 350 but can sell up to 600 on a holiday week. “Wicked” sets aside and sells 300, a number that jumps to 500 in May. “Phantom” does about 200. “Beauty,” which came late to the premium-tix game, in November, sells 100.

It’s not a huge chunk of any show’s tix. So why the dearth of center-orch seats?

Winter discount sales for “Beauty” were very strong, says Disney VP David Schraeder. “The seating opens up a bit in March.”

The Shuberts’ Gerald Schoenfeld also mentions strong winter sales for the movie-rejuvenated “Phantom.” “And there has been a tremendous amount of theater parties through April,” he adds.

What Goes Around …

Is this a tenpercentery first? William Morris Agency hosts a party Feb. 28 to celebrate the current theater season.

Amy Jacobs segues from Boneau/Bryan-Brown to a VP slot at Rubinstein Communications.

Aubrey Reuben is the new acting prexy of the Outer Critics Circle.

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