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Broadway matinees mix it up

Gotham gives Thursdays, Fridays a try

Matinees aren’t just for Wednesdays anymore.

This summer, Broadway’s selection of weekday afternoon performance has expanded beyond Humpday to include two shows, “Baby It’s You!” and “Rock of Ages,” performing Friday matinees, and another, “Chicago,” trying out Thursday afternoons.

In recent years producers have become increasingly willing to consider curtain times outside the usual sked that sees shows perform Tuesday through Saturday evenings with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Such shifts rep an effort not only to maximize the convenience factor for a production’s core audience, but also a strategy to lessen competition with other shows by redistributing the Street’s spread of curtain times.

The productions that switch it up are still playing the usual eight-perf week, they’re just doing so to the beat of their own drum — because schedules, according to legiters, are not one size fits all.

“Different strokes for different shows,” says “Chicago” producer Barry Weissler.

Performance times tailored to individual productions may be de riguer in London, but it’s far more unusual on the tradition-bound Main Stem. The wave of experimentation is part of the same trend that has seen more and more productions tinker with the 8 o’clock start time. Along with the near-universal adoption of Tuesdays at 7, the initiative that pushed Tuesday evening perfs up by an hour, many shows offer earlier curtains: “Billy Elliot,” for instance, skeds an array of 7:30 shows, while all three non-weekend evening perfs at “The Book of Mormon” begin at 7 p.m.

The experiment with Thursday and Friday matinees are due to last only until summer’s end. But if it works, a longer-term shift could emerge.

Dabbling in nonstandard performance skeds isn’t entirely new, of course. The 1980s juggernaut “Cats” caused a stir when it dropped the Thursday evening show in favor of Monday evening, and recent years have seen Sunday and Monday nights become viable options for Broadway.

The shuffle has become more commonplace in part because the availability of theatergoer data and other statistics are much more readily available in the age of Internet purchasing. Such info, as well as demographic surveys conducted by umbrella org the Broadway League, can help producers identify a show’s prime audience and create a sked to cater to it.

If a show appeals to a tourist crowd — especially tristate visitors more likely to take a Friday off for a long weekend, rather than a Wednesday — then a Friday matinee might pay off.

For “Rock of Ages,” Long Island and New Jersey visitors make up a major chunk of its ticketbuyers. “That audience is our bread and butter,” says producer Matthew Weaver.

The specific party vibe of the retro-rock tuner, where drinking in your seat is almost encouraged, also made Friday matinees seem particularly appropriate as an early kickoff to summer weekends. “Friday targets all those corporate employees working summer hours, with Friday afternoons off,” Weaver says.

“Rock” stopped playing Sunday night because data from last summer indicated that performance had been the hardest to sell every week.

On the other hand, “Baby It’s You!” takes Wednesday night off, because matinees are among the production’s stronger-selling perfs.

“Look, we’re a matinee show,” says “Baby” producer Gregg Maday of Warner Bros. Theater Ventures. “We’re getting people from the suburbs coming in to see this show. I decided to give Friday a try because all our matinees were doing extremely well, and Wednesday nights were slow.”

For many shows, there’s one particular curtain time that just doesn’t sell as well as others. It’s often either the Wednesday matinee or evening perf; sometimes it’s a Sunday night.

“People are always looking for the lesser of evils for the eighth show,” notes Jordan Roth, prexy of theater owner Jujamcyn Theaters.

“Chicago’s” Weissler says his show benefits from ticketbuying data accumulated over a run that is now approaching the 15-year mark. The tuner’s Thursday matinee has the added advantage of a lack of competition. Want to see a Broadway show on Thursday afternoon? You’ve got one option: “Chicago.”

The increasing variety in Broadway’s weekly schedule could prove a boon to all Rialto shows, which, theoretically, will see less competition for the same finite group of theatergoers on a given afternoon or evening. And this summer, TKTS business won’t be lost, because the midtown booth will open early both Thursday and Friday in order to sell matinees of “Chicago,” “Rock” and “Baby.”

Broadway’s growing schedule diversity also helps out binge theatergoers, who come to town for a few days to see as many productions as they possibly can. An unusual performance day or time might allow a ticketbuyer to squeeze in one more show.

However, skeds aren’t infinitely flexible. Equity regulations state that a matinee cannot follow a day off, since those daytime hours — i.e., the Tuesday leading up to an evening perf, following a Monday day off — essentially comprise half of an actor’s weekend. The demands of performance largely render six-show weekends (two perfs each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday) too taxing for most casts and crews, and ongoing rehearsal requirements also can serve as limitations.

Besides, some audiences are partial to an old-fashioned sked with a reliable Wednesday matinee. A majority of group buyers, for instance, prefer the mid-week afternoon.

Still, producers seem ready and willing to mix it up a little. As Maday puts it: “We’ll only know if it works if we try it.”

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