NEW YORK, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Broadway shows are determined to survive the post-holiday theater-going slump in January and February by slashing their ticket prices, often making it cheaper to see a show on the Great White Way than off-Broadway, where tickets traditionally are more conservatively priced.
The winter doldrums descend on Broadway, a $720 million business last season, when holiday tourists disappear from the city and city-dwellers cut back on going to the theater, often for weather-related reasons. It is typical for four or five shows to close during this slow period, which can last into mid-March.
In recent years, many shows have offered discount tickets from early January into March, but never more discounted than this year.
"Little Shop of Horrors," a popular new musical revival, is offering the best seats at the Virginia Theater for only $60, a one-third reduction in price. "Thoroughly Modern Millie," a holdover hit that won the 2003 Tony Award for best musical, is advertising $50 orchestra tickets for weeknights and $55 tickets for weekend performances, a saving of 50 percent. The long-run "Phantom of the Opera" is offering orchestra and front mezzanine tickets for $45 through March 12.
These reduced ticket prices blur the distinction between Broadway and off-Broadway, where ticket prices tend to remain fixed throughout the winter. A veteran producer of shows in both venues, Benjamin Mordecai, noted in an interview that now "the average ticket price of a new play is more expensive off-Broadway than on Broadway."
"And if it's not more expensive, it's pretty darn close," he said. "Broadway is a bargain-hunter's dream."
Mordecai's observation was backed up by figures released by the League of American Theaters and Producers last week, which showed that audiences attending the new Broadway hit "I Am My Own Wife" are paying an average of $48.50 per ticket, whereas those attending the show when it opened off-Broadway before moving to Broadway's Lyceum Theater paid $52.50 on the average.
There are 35 stages in Manhattan qualifying as Broadway theaters and hundreds of off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway stages catering to 450 non-profit theater companies in the city's five boroughs. Several non-profit companies also operate on Broadway including the Manhattan Theater Club, which recently renovated and moved into the long-derelict Biltmore Theater at a cost of $35 million.
According to figures available from the theater league and other sources, four out of five Broadway shows fail to recoup their investments, a situation that was unthinkable 30 years ago when most show backers went into the theater to make a profit. But it may explain why there were only 150 non-profit theater companies 10 years ago compared to the 450 today.
"It's just one more example of the resilience and resourcefulness of the New York theater," said Virginia P. Louloudes, executive director of the Alliance of Resident Theaters, which represents 400 of the non-profit theaters. "I think the impulse to produce theater is so strong that it flies in the face of economics."
The half-price tickets booths in Times Square and lower Manhattan report that sales are up 15 percent so far for the 2003-2004 season over the last season, possibly because domestic tourists have returned to New York in large numbers for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks destroyed the Twin Towers. Sales at these booths are designed to keep faltering shows alive by discounting tickets unsold at theater box offices.
But nothing could save several new shows that have opened and closed since Sept. 1, one of them -- "The Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All" starring Ellen Burstyn -- lasting only one night.
Even such talents as Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill could not keep "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" alive and popular comic Jackie Mason had to shutter his one-man show, "Laughing Room Only," in less than two weeks. The latest victim was Tony Award-winning playwright Richard Greenberg's "The Violet Hour," a Manhattan Theater Club production that closed Dec. 21 despite good-to-mixed reviews.
"Broadway is always going to be a roller coaster," Jed Bernstein, president of the theater league, told United Press International. "Even so, we seem to be in a time when the mass appeal of it is remarkably strong, given the soft economy."
Broadway has added only one theater to its list recently, the Biltmore, after regaining four houses several seasons ago on 42nd Street that had been used as movie houses for many years. Further west on 42nd in a block now called Theater Row, there are six new off-Broadway theaters including the Little Shubert, which the Shubert Organization, Broadway's biggest theater owner, opened a year ago as its first off-Broadway venture.
The latest theater venue to be completed is a three-theater complex on East 59th Street in the Bloomingdale's department store neighborhood. It will open next month and will include the home stage of Primary Stages, a non-profit producer.