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Broadway gets artful with its ticket pricing

Buyers are skittish in this skidding economy. Producers try to get them in the doors by sweetening the deals.

November 29, 2008|associated press

NEW YORK — It's been a weird, schizophrenic couple of months on Broadway as theaters prepare for the holidays in the middle of an economic downturn and what, in the past, have been some of the most profitable weeks of the season.

Closing dates have been announced with glum regularity: Older shows, such as "Hairspray," "Monty Python's Spamalot" and "Spring Awakening." New shows, such as "13" and the already departed, critically maligned "American Buffalo."

And even one that, early last season, the smart money thought would have had more than a yearlong run: "Young Frankenstein," done in by less-than-stellar reviews, inept marketing and its initial, celebrated $400 premium ticket price that quickly disappeared.

And yet, the news isn't all grim. Limited-engagement fall revivals of "Speed-the-Plow," "The Seagull," "All My Sons" and possibly "Equus" are at or near recoupment of their $2-million-plus production costs. And "Billy Elliot" has turned into the first big musical smash of 2008, getting great notices and doing hefty business.

Still, there is an underlying nervousness among some producers about early 2009, especially if the economic situation remains stagnant and tourists, both homegrown and foreign, stay away from New York.

"The mood seems to be that it is going to be tougher than in prior years," says David Schrader, executive vice president of Disney Theatricals. "But January and February are always hard, especially for shows that are on the bubble, struggling for one reason or another."

As in the past, many of the remaining shows are offering discounts to get through the lean winter months. Only now, they have gotten a little more inventive in their cut-rate pricing. For example, you've heard of day-of-performance, student-rush tickets, for those under 18 or 21, popularized by such shows as "Rent." Starting Tuesday, there will be a senior rush, for ticket buyers 65 or older, at "August: Osage County," last season's best-play Tony winner.

"Why should there be a student rush and not a senior-citizen rush? Senior citizens are very mobile these days," "August" producer Jeffrey Richards says. "If they are willing to queue up accordingly, why not?"

And beginning Monday, Disney will institute a "Kids Go Free!" offer, a limited-time discount for its three child-friendly musicals -- "The Lion King," "The Little Mermaid" and "Mary Poppins" -- for Jan. 6-March 13 with the purchase of a full-price ticket. Restrictions apply and the offer must be acted upon by midnight Dec. 12. Check the website www.DisneyOnBroadway.com for details.

As for productions in the new year, there are a surprising number of new plays, all of them star-driven.

"I don't think anyone would do a straight play in this environment without stars," says Bob Boyett, a producer of "Monty Python's Spamalot" and "Impressionism," a new play starring Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen, opening in March. "It's got to be about the cast. That's what you are pushing."

And other names are on tap too for the new year. Jane Fonda, Will Ferrell, Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett, Mary-Louise Parker, Brian Dennehy and more, in a play-heavy late winter and spring.

"There is too much doom and gloom about Broadway right now," says producer Richards, citing the recoupment of his own "Speed-the-Plow" and others.

"And while there is always concern and trepidation during difficult times, I think that people want to see good theater and are still going to go see good theater."

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