The Playgoer: off b'way is back?

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Friday, May 07, 2010

off b'way is back?

Crains bucks the trend and says that despite recent woes over shuttering spaces and marketing difficulties, commercial Off Broadway is (forgive me) staging a comeback.  First there's the reverse-transfers of Broadway hits Avenue Q and 39 Steps to the New World Stages "multiplex" venue, where they are both doing well.  Now another OB entrepreneur is staking some real estate:

In the past few months, Catherine Russell has been receiving calls constantly from producers trying to rent a stage at her off-Broadway theater complex. In fact, the demand is so great that Ms. Russell—whose two stages are filled with the long-running shows The Fantasticks and Perfect Crime—plans to build more theaters. The general manager of the Snapple Theater Center at West 50th Street and Broadway is in negotiations with landlords at two midtown locations to build one complex with two 249-seat theaters and another with two 249-seat theaters and a 99-seat stage. She hopes to sign the leases within the next two months and finish the theaters by October.
“There are not enough theaters centrally located in the Broadway area,” says Ms. Russell, who is looking for a corporate sponsor for the new theaters similar to the deal she now has with Snapple. “There is a need for more comfortable, clean, off-Broadway theaters with lovely dressing rooms and a good location.”
Yes, the Snapple Theatre is a hit.

Russell has a point about "location, location, location".  Both Snapple and New World are basically in the Times Square/Broadway theatre district, and thus have a better chance of roping in some of the tourist trade who only go there to see a show.

On the other hand, there are still those daunting "givens" for producing OB:
Despite the renewed interest, off-Broadway still faces many challenges. The average ticket price is just $37.50—compared with around $80 on Broadway—and the theaters are small, with the maximum number of seats at 499, so making the weekly nut is tough. And with weekly advertising budgets of around $5,000 (compared with $75,000 on Broadway), these productions rely on reviews, which are getting harder to come by because the advertising downturn has forced news outlets to lay off critics and run fewer reviews.
Show me where that $37.50 ticket is to be had, by the way!  Last I checked The Public was selling that hip youth-oriented downtown musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at $70. And they're nonprofit!

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