Thu Oct 9 2008
What’s going on
Though there were no signs of an apocalypse on Broadway last week, the mood was decidedly skittish. A nose-diving economy and lackluster grosses claimed some early victims: Xanadu, whose producers abruptly moved up its closing date to September 28, specifically citing the downturn; and [title of show] and Legally Blonde, which both announced they would shutter in mid-October.
The closings were only the latest bad economic news on the Great White Way. In July, producers of the Broadway-bound for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf postponed its opening, citing “the recent loss of one of the production’s key backers” in a press release. And in August, Godspell put off its Broadway bow “due to the loss of a major investor in the harsh reality of a slowing economy,” according to producer Adam Epstein.
However, last-minute investor exits are a frequent-enough occurrence, even in ordinary times. And September is typically a slower, back-to-school month before the new shows open, according to Charlotte St. Martin, the Broadway League’s executive director.
St. Martin notes that the typical Broadway investor has always been a theater lover: In a market in which investors break even on only one out of five shows, she says, “people invest in Broadway because they’re passionate about it.” Privately, however, Broadway insiders confess that raising money has been tough for a while—and it just got tougher. Howard Sherman, executive director of the American Theatre Wing, which presents the Tony Awards with the Broadway League, says, “Right now, the nonprofits’ seasons and the fall commercial productions are set. The question is: If the economic situation worsens, what will we be seeing in six months to a year?”
Meanwhile, nonprofit theaters Off and Off-Off Broadway are quaking at e-mails from city and state officials warning of imminent budget cuts; not to mention the sudden loss of donors and corporate matching programs from the likes of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.
How this affects you
Is this a ticket buyer’s market? Don’t get your hopes up. It’s going to be a long time—if ever—before you see a fire sale on those Jersey Boys or Lion King tickets Mom’s been wanting. But deals are to be had. According to a TKTS spokesman, sales at the discount booths have been “steady and consistent with previous years.” And a quick survey of discount site BroadwayBox.com shows the usual array of cut-rate offers for new arrivals still in previews and for long-running shows that don’t sell out.
The bright side
If there is an upside, it’s the eventual prospect of less expensive leases for small theaters—and the fact that many a Gotham nonprofit knows how to work cheap. “A lot of these artists are used to working on a tight budget, even in boom times,” says Ginny Louloudes, executive director of the 400-member Alliance of Resident Theaters/New York, a service and advocacy organization for Off and Off-Off Broadway. “And in times like these, not having a full-time staff or a physical space—working in a lean, flexible way—may be an advantage.” It helps, too, that most nonprofits’ fiscal year began July 1. Translation: They’ve got nine months to sort out next season’s plans.
As for Broadway, says longtime Playbill publisher Philip Birsh, it has certain “antirecessional” qualities. Enticed by the cheap dollar, foreign tourists have been flocking to it. And moreover, says Birsh, “When the tristate area stays home instead of going on vacation, as in past recessions, we’ve often seen them attend more theater.” The catch? It all depends on the fall shows’ buzz. “Broadway’s like any jeweler,” says Birsh. “He’s only as good as his inventory.”