Get to see "Miss Saigon" or "Phantom of the...


November 07, 1991

IF YOU DON'T get to see "Miss Saigon" or "Phantom of the Opera" in, say, New York or Washington, don't plan on seeing either in Baltimore (nor "Bye Bye Birdie," nor Jerome Robbins' "Broadway," nor "City of Angels," nor etc., etc.). This is because the Mechanic Theatre is simply not able to accommodate elaborate Broadway productions. It has neither the technical equipment nor the capacity. The Mechanic has 1,607 seats, but it takes more than 2,000 to make money, according to a study commissioned by the Abell Foundation.

The Mechanic's sponsoring organization, the Baltimore Center for Performing Arts (along with Baltimoreans who care about such things) must decide whether the city needs a larger performing arts center that can accommodate today's (and tomorrow's) larger Broadway productions.

More than Broadway entertainment is involved in the decision. To the Central Maryland economy the Mechanic's programming brings in $23.2 million in yearly box-office revenue, $8.7 million in employment income (475 jobs) and $1.5 million in taxes. As an attraction in the art and museum world, only the National Aquarium adds more to the economic well-being of the region. In fact, in North America, the Mechanic ranks sixth among legitimate theaters in ticket revenue.

The unhappy choice appears to be this: As Broadway theater becomes more expensive and more complex, either the city makes do with low-cost and non-Broadway shows or it finds the money to build a larger theater.

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