Broadway adjusts to changing cycle

June 26, 1992|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- You can hear a pin drop in Broadway offices this week, and it looks as if that won't change for a good many months.

In recent years, the cycle of activity has shifted away from the traditional season, which used to start in earnest with the school year. Now the bulk of the openings are scheduled from February to April, to compete for Tony Awards, which have become a show's most effective marketing tool.

Pair that with the fact that big musicals have become so expensive to produce (roughly $8 million now) that when they hit, they need to run as long as possible to recoup the producers' investments. With a show like "Cats" due to celebrate its 10th anniversary in October, there is much less turnover of theaters than there used to be, and fewer openings.

In fact, the only openings listed now for Broadway before Jan. 1, 1993, that are not at non-profit, subscription theaters are two musical revivals ("Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Stardust").

Arthur Rubin, the executive vice president of the Nederlander Organization, says:

"This worries me because I don't get two shots at booking a theater anymore. It used to be that if the first show didn't make it, I had a chance to get another booking in the spring. Now if the theater is empty, I only have one shot because most producers are consciously delaying their productions to come in closer to the Tonys. They're afraid that they won't be remembered from October, which is silly."

James Walsh, the co-producer of "Conversations With My Father" and "A Streetcar Named Desire," says: "I have worked in this business for 30 years and for the first 20 of them, getting a Tony Award wasn't that important. It was nice if you got one, but it was never life or death if you didn't. The fall is really a great time to open a show. The month of October has the highest hotel bookings in New York City of the whole year."

Rocco Landesman, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, says: "The advantage of opening early in the season is that you have the field all to yourself and you get all the theater parties. But because Broadway is so much more geared toward tourists than it used to be, January and February become a hurdle to get past because no one visits New York then. You have to get through those bad months to make it to spring."

Mr. Walsh says: "January and February were never a picnic, but the summers used to be so bad for business that the contracts would automatically end on June 30. Now, August has become a boom month, though July is normally harder."

In fact, at least one summer opening in recent years, "La Cage aux Folles," went on to win the Tony the following spring.

And last season both the Tony winners for best play, "Dancing at Lughnasa," and best musical, "Crazy for You," were among the earliest openings of the season, in October and February, respectively, and built their audiences long before the awards season.

Which is how it should be, Mr. Walsh says. "There's got to be more to seeing a play than a Tony Award."

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