Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Broadway Costs So Much

Musicals are not only big box office draws, they are also big spectacles to assemble and fund. And the recession has made a decidedly noticeable impact so that a number of popular award-winning shows have had to shutter their doors, including Spamalot and Hairspray.

I remember when my brother and his wife went to see Yul Brynner in his second last Broadway performance of The King and I. When all was said and done, it cost a pretty penny, but those second row seats (or was it front row?) were worth every dime they said. $120 a seat if I recall correctly.

A recent article in The Economists outlines the costs associated with putting on these productions, and frankly I was somewhat floored. Shrek: The Musical, currently running, purportedly cost investors 20 million to stage. The revived West Side Story cost 14 million. A resurrected Hair was put together for under six million, but you don’t have to do too much math to understand why those Broadway ticket prices were so hefty.

I used to think, too, that the actors and actresses liked Broadway as a place to hone their skills, and interact with audiences, but guess what? I think they like the paychecks just as much.

Here are ticket prices for a few of today's current shows.

West Side Story $45 – $120 Yes, Leonard Bernstein's musical re-telling of old Bill's Romeo & Juliet is back.

Mary Poppins $30 – $120 Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee in Edwardian London; the umbrella is still magical.

Memphis $40 – $125 Chad Kimball and Monego Glover. A black singer and white radio DJ come together in 1950’s Memphis.

Mama Mia $60 – $120 Critics give it a 3.1, audiences a 4.6 Four good seats: $486

A Steady Rain $85 – $128.50 Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman star as Chicago police officers struggling to reconcile a tragic event. Craig, most noted for his admirably presented James Bond, is performing in his first Broadway show for a limited time only. A first class evening for four will cost you just under $600, not including dinner or parking.

Actually, production costs might explain why a lot of Vegas shows have such steep ticket prices for a ninety minute or two hour event. When magician Steve Weyrick a number of years ago opened at the Sahara I heard that the casino spent 25 million dollars just to build the elaborate set where he performed. Sadly, the night I saw him there were only 30 or so in the audience. Not a strong ROI for the Sahara.

If you really want to see a Broadway musical, I'm hearing pretty good reviews from people who've seen Jersey Boys. Unlike some of what's playing now, this one is being sold out week after week, 101.2% last week and 4.8 out of 5 stars by audiences, despite what the critics say. The cheap seats start at $95, so you might want to go for broke and get the $125 seats if you can. And no, it is not about my brothers and I, though we did enjoy being Jersey boys while growing up.

Ever seen the lights on Broadway? What did you think? Now you know what they mean when they say, "It's showtime!"


Christella said...

It's worth every penny to me. I still remember my first visit to a theater in Chicago...Long Day's Journey into Night. Cost-$1.50 a ticket for the matinee. I was hooked. I'm glad more is coming to Las Vegas.

ENNYMAN said...

I enjoy the theater, have enjoyed some things very much, even if only here in Duluth... Wish I had time for more, actually.
I know my brother Ron and his wife felt it was money well spent, and the enjoyed bringing my mom to see Cats.
We tried to see Spamalot when we were in NYC but planned badly and it was an off night. Alas, we spent time in a great jazz club.


Christella said...

By the way, forgot to mention that Jersey Boys is fabulous. Loved every minute of it.