The Playgoer: "We don't need you, you can't afford us"

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

"We don't need you, you can't afford us"

According to Riedel yesterday, the upcoming Broadway transfer of Billy Elliot is "budgeted at $18.5 million, making it one of the most expensive non-Disney musicals ever."

The producers of "Billy Elliot" aren't as greedy as Mel Brooks & Co. They're "only" charging $300 for premium seats. But they have increased the price of mediocre seats. On Saturday evenings, if you want to sit at the back of the orchestra or in the mezzanine, you'll have to shell out $135, as opposed to $121 at most other shows.

Not to beat the drum too loudly here - lest the League of American Theaters and Producers starts accusing me of being a stagehand-loving commie - but one thing is clear: Broadway has turned its back on the working and middle classes. If you're not rich, if you don't have a loft in SoHo or a three-bedroom on the Upper West Side or a house in Westport, get lost, we don't need you, you can't afford us. If you really want to take the family to a show, check out the Ice Capades.

Preach it, Michael.

However, there's another way to interpret this. It strikes me that the endangered breed of B'way producer is making a very calculated decision. Once one settles for the reality that, given expenses, profit is only possible at a 3-figure ticket price, lowering ticket prices becomes very, very hard. And so, maybe you stop caring that more and more "regular folk" are not going to be able to afford theatregoing as a regular habit. And you start caring a lot more about a) those who can afford it, or at least can "expense" it. And, b) those who will still splurge once a year--i.e. those for whom theatregoing is rare and expensive event (like a Vegas show or a 4-star restaurant), not part of their regular artistically nurturing diet.

This naturally includes tourists, even very middle-class, middle-income tourists who can't really afford it either, but will pay it once in a blue moon to treat their spouse and/or family. But then, as you can imagine, it better be really, really good. As in, bang for the buck.

Speaking of which, over to you, Riedel:

I'll say this for "Billy Elliot," though. If you're going to splurge on one show next year, this is the one.

And there you have the new Broadway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm as pro-union as they come, but doesn't it seem that the excessively high ticket prices and the restrictive stage-hand contracts might be connected - and that the result is that only the biggest cash cows (mostly musicals) can survive on broadway? perhaps the answer is to back-load the contracts - so if a show does well, the stage hands share in the profits - and if it's likely to be just moderately successful, at least a producer can afford to bring it to the stage without flirting with bankruptcy?