Actors help Broadway get on with show

Campaign seeks to boost attendance after attacks

Terrorism Strikes America

September 29, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - Some of the biggest names in the entertainment world gathered in Times Square yesterday to help launch an advertising campaign aimed at bringing audiences back to Broadway.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick were there, along with Bernadette Peters, Brooke Shields, Bebe Neuwirth and Alan Alda, all joining hundreds of their colleagues on a glorious fall day in the heart of the theater district.

Many wore costumes from The Lion King, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Chicago and The Producers. They called the campaign "Let's Go On With The Show." And its theme song was "New York, New York," a tune that has long been this city's unofficial anthem.

"We want everybody in the country to come to New York because we can't exist without you," said Joel Grey. "We're hurting. We're all hurting."

Like every other tourist-related business in New York, Broadway shows have been battered by a huge drop in ticket sales since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11. Sales were down 75 percent the first week, said Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers.

The lights went out on several shows. Cast members and crew in Kiss Me, Kate took pay cuts to keep from shutting down. Though there was a slight rebound last week, sales remained sluggish, down 35 percent.

"The most troubling thing is that advance sales are off," said Bernstein. "The real danger is that sales stagnate and remain at that 35 percent below level."

Broadway actors spent much of the week gearing up for yesterday's taping. They laid down the song tracks and worked on the choreography, which, though relatively simple, took several takes to complete.

The ad campaign is only part of Broadway's efforts to turn around sales and support the relief efforts that have begun in the wake of the attacks. The industry has decided to donate $5 of every ticket purchased by the end of this month for shows through the end of next month to the Mayor's Twin Towers Fund, the charity aiding victims of the attacks.

One of the main ideas behind the campaign was to give the theater professionals a chance to rally together and ease the gloom and sadness that has permeated a city grieving the deaths of thousands of its residents, said Bernstein

"They can't go down and dig through the rubble, but this is a way that they can participate," Bernstein said.

Bernadette Peters echoed those comments during a break in the taping.

"I think everybody in the country wanted to do something," she said, noting that millions have donated money, given blood and volunteered. "This is what we do. ... Our hearts are exposed, and we're all here for the same reason, to relieve the hurt."

The gathering of stars attracted hundreds of spectators who stood along the west side of Broadway between 46th and 47th streets, hoping for a glimpse of one of their favorite stars. Though the crowd applauded each successful take, the biggest applause and cheers were given to the fire-rescue crews who drove past, American flags flying from their trucks.

Matthew Broderick said the event gave Broadway's actors a chance to stand together as a community and let the world know they are performing, even as they share in the city's pain.

"Everybody is still a little bit stunned. But we're happy to have places to work and have audiences," he said, adding that even in these gloomy times the theater holds its magic. "Under the worst circumstances, you can have a few hours to be somewhere else."

Nathan Lane, who stars with Broderick in The Producers, said there was a sense of camaraderie among those who gathered in the square where a statue of George M. Cohan, the original Yankee Doodle Dandy, looks south toward lower Manhattan.

"I think everybody feels the same way, that it's a wonderful thing to be involved in," said Lane. "Hopefully, we'll get the message out that it's all right to come back to New York."

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