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With Sandy fading, Broadway storms back

As the weakening super storm moves west, the lights are blazing again on the Great White Way after several days of closures and perhaps $5 million in lost revenue.

October 31, 2012|By Meredith Blake and Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times
  • A line of ticket buyers wait at the TKTS booth, which sells discount tickets to Broadway shows, in New York's Times Square, on Oct. 31, 2012.
A line of ticket buyers wait at the TKTS booth, which sells discount tickets… (Beth J. Harpaz / Associated…)

NEW YORK – Sandy dimmed the lights on the Great White Way – but not for long.

After days of shuttered performances in the wake of the storm, 27 of the 29 shows running on Broadway reopened Wednesday, despite continued power, transportation and community outages across New York City and the surrounding area. The exceptions, Disney's musicals "Mary Poppins" and "The Lion King," will return Thursday.

"Evita," "Jersey Boys" and "Scandalous" canceled their Wednesday matinees but resumed with Wednesday's evening performances.

For Broadway producers, the return couldn't come quickly enough. Sandy took a bite of perhaps $5 million in lost revenue from its theaters as some closed starting Sunday evening in anticipation of the storm's arrival.

In true showbiz fashion, the Broadway League's executive director, Charlotte St. Martin, accentuated the positive in a statement on its website: "For those theater-goers who are staying in hotels and can't get home, it's a great time to see a show."

Many tourists, motivated as much by cabin fever as by their love of theater, heeded St. Martin's advice Wednesday morning, queuing up at the TKTS booth on Broadway and 47th Street to buy discounted seats to such shows as the long-running "The Phantom of the Opera" and the brand-new "The Heiress."

Because of computer server problems, nearly all the shows were doing cash-only sales, and the foot traffic in Times Square was noticeably diminished from its usual midday peak. The line at the TKTS booth was about half as long as usual for a Wednesday afternoon.

Carol Krau of Nashville was able to get through the line in a mere 15 minutes. "It's great!" she said.

Derrick and Elizabeth Speer, vacationers from New Zealand, said they were happy to get tickets to see "Peter and the Starcatcher" after days of being cooped up in a midtown hotel. "Going to a show is about the only thing we can do," Elizabeth said.

But not even Sandy was enough to cool the hottest ticket in town, "The Book of Mormon." By 11:30 a.m., some two dozen people were already crowded into the lobby of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, hoping to score last-minute cancellation tickets to the blockbuster musical.

Canadian Mark Kusumajuda and five of his family members, in town from Thailand, were able to get seats — but they had to fork over $477 each for them.

Other patrons weren't as happy. One visibly irritated couple, who declined to provide their names, purchased tickets eight months ago to Sunday's canceled show, and grumbled as patrons ahead of them in line picked up cancellation tickets.

The most recent box office figures published by the Broadway League showed average earnings of $104,378 per performance during the week ending Oct. 21. Multiply that by 49 lost performances Sunday through Wednesday, and you have a $5-million ballpark figure for storm losses incurred by theaters and producers.

In comparison, Broadway took an $8.5-million hit in August 2011 when Hurricane Irene shut down the 23 productions then running for a weekend. With 66 performances lost, the aggregate gross fell about 40% from the previous week. Broadway League spokeswoman Elisa Shevitz said Sandy's box office affect will emerge when the week's figures are published on Monday.

While the long-term financial impact is yet to be calculated, it is certain to go even higher, given the continued difficulty of getting into and out of Manhattan and the likelihood of reduced attendance of both locals and tourists in the storm's aftermath.

In one small stroke of luck, most Broadway theaters are clustered between 41st and 54th streets in Manhattan, just a few short blocks north of the area of the borough that remained without electricity two days after the storm.

Actors and other unionized employees also could lose out, unless management feels kindly disposed.

Maria Somma, union spokeswoman for Actors' Equity, said that an "act of God" clause in the Broadway actors' contract says that cast members won't be paid for performances canceled for reasons beyond the producers' control.

But after Hurricane Irene, she said, "we asked producers to pay our actors, and other unions did the same. All the shows with the exception of 'Rock of Ages' did step up and pay everybody, which was really quite wonderful of them."

The new Broadway revival of "The Heiress," with Jessica Chastain and "Downton Abbey" star Dan Stevens, has the bad luck of opening the same week as Sandy's debut. But despite a canceled preview performance, the production will still open Thursday as scheduled, according to a spokesman. Producers canceled Tuesday's preview.

The city's other cultural institutions were slower to reopen. Carnegie Hall officials said all concerts scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday have been canceled. The building is located near a dangling crane atop a skyscraper on West 57th Street that has caused the immediate area to be cordoned off.

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