WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Domestic tourists have returned to Broadway, up 7 percent last season and now making up nearly 50 percent of the total audience, but the Great White Way is suffering from other ills unrelated to the plummeting of tourism after the 2001 terrorist attack.
International visitors, who made up 10 percent of Broadway audiences for years, have not returned to the city in large numbers and now constitute only 6 percent of audiences, according to statistics for the 2002-2003 season released by the League of New York Theaters and Producers. Broadway sold a total of 11.4 million tickets last season, the report said.
The new 2003-2004 season that began in June has seen 24 new Broadway productions scheduled for opening before Dec. 31, and ticket sales so far are down less than 5 percent from this time last year, according to the League. But optimism that the box office will erase that small deficit with ticket sales for the holiday season is waning fast and the winter season, always bad for ticket sales, begins in January.
One of the new shows closed in rehearsal, another closed in previews, and a third folded after one performance, the first Broadway show to do so since 1996.
Several other new shows are being performed to audiences far below 50 percent of capacity as a result of bad reviews and lack of audience interest. Even tickets to Rosie O'Donnell's "Taboo," a musical about Boy George starring Boy George, aren't selling well, threatening O'Donnell with loss of her $10 million investment.
Views on what has gone wrong vary. Jed Bernstein, president of the theater league, blames it on the severity of critics, but other veterans of commercial theater think the quality of what is being offered audiences is the real culprit.
Richard Kornberg, press agent for the musical hit "Hairspray" as well as for one of the newly failed shows, points a finger at the lack of shows that "are really going to get people to focus on the theater."
"There's been an assumption that there would be a huge theatergoing audience buying tickets to a lot of shows, whereas in reality all people are doing is buying tickets to blockbusters," Kornberg said. "There's simply too much product out there for the number of people going to the theater."
Bernstein, however, prefers to point out that there are many positive signs of Broadway's health, especially its appeal to youth and minorities.
He said theatergoers under 18 accounted for 1.3 million paid admissions to Broadway shows last year, up 500,000 over ticket sales to youth a decade ago. He also noted that 32 percent of under-18 theatergoers are non-white, compared to only 10 percent over the age of 50. Another shift was in the number of ticket sales purchased on the Internet -- more than 2 million last season compared to 100,000 five years ago.
"With Internet purchases growing exponentially, it makes sense that we focus many of our marketing and outreach efforts on the Web," he said.
Two of Broadway's failures so far this season involved established stars --Farrah Fawcett and Ellen Burstyn. These are the kind of names that usually guarantee a show's success and at least a modestly long run. But "Bobbi Boland" starring Fawcett was closed after a few shaky previews, cutting investor losses to $2 million, and "Oldest Living Confderate Widow Tells All," a one-woman drama showcasing Burstyn, folded to scathing reviews after opening night, losing $1.25 million.
Another show, Barry Manilow's "Harmony," closed in rehearsal due to lack of capitalization, and Stephen Sondheims's first musical in nine years, "Bounce," closed in Washington to mixed reviews and will not be coming to Broadway in the spring as planned. "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," starring Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill, closed this week.
Even the 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Nilo Cruz's "Anna in the Tropics," played to half full houses in preview but picked up at the box office last week after its opening night performance garnered favorable critical reviews.
Continuing to draw capacity audiences are two new mega-million dollar musicals, "The Boy from Oz, starring Hugh Jackman, "Wicked," an Oz prequel, and two smaller shows, "Avenue Q," a charming show with puppets, and "Golda's Balcony," starring Tovah Feldshuh as Israel's Golda Meir.