Like the movies, Broadway is also suffering, not only from poor attendance but also from the high cost of production. Live shows, especially musicals, involve intricate production designs to lure the audience.
To prevail over the financial difficulties, Broadway hits are now resorting to premium pricing of seats. This pricing scheme of selected theater seats seem to be rewarding enough to the producers.
According to Patrick Healy of New York Times, the musical Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway was such a hit that seat prices were upped from $155 to $175 for orchestra seats. And for the best seats in the theater, it can go up to $350.
Hugh Jackman’s show earned more than a million dollars in just 8 weeks of showing. It edged out the 3 hot musicals: The Book of Mormons, Wicked, and The Lion King. All 4 shows have weathered the economic downturn by their dynamic pricing of seats.
The strategy, according to Healy, involves increasing or decreasing the prices, not for all but for certain seats only. Producers are excited with their newly invented scheme and several shows have increased their take because of this.
In the current 2011 season, Broadway plays and musicals have earned half a billion dollars so far, an increase of almost 5% from last years figures. Like the movies, attendance was slightly down by 1.6% versus last year.
It can be remembered that Lea Salonga gained international stardom in 1989 via the musical Miss Saigon. Lea played the role of Kim with the signature song Sun and Moon in the West End show of London.
For her remarkable performance, Lea earned an Oliver (statuette) for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical for the 1989–1990 season. From 1993 to 1996, Lea continued essaying Kim’s role but in Broadway this time.
Monique Wilson subbed for Lea as Kim after playing the role of Mimi for a time. Monique inherited the throne when Lea left West End to be in Broadway. Jenine Desiderio was also a major player in the West End version of Miss Saigon.
Leo Valdez is another international achiever courtesy of Miss Saigon. He started playing the role of The Engineer in 1994. In 2007, Leo returned to Miss Saigon, not in the West End but in Australia.
Recently (September 2011) Leo Valdez had a local show called Broadway Showstoppers held in Resorts World Manila. Others in the cast, who were actually guest performers, were Audie Gemora, Joanna Ampil, Cris Villongco, Pinky Amador, Pinky Marquez, Debraliz Valazote and Atasha Muhlach.
Back to Broadway, it is actually a thoroughfare replete with countless of theaters, according to film director Edgardo “Boy” Vinarao. Situated in Times Square, it is noted for quality live plays and musicals.
Film director Edgardo “Boy” Vinarao
For his experience, Vinarao was able to get a seat in 2 Broadway musicals late this year. “Maraming puwedeng pagpilian pero familiar na yung mga kanta kaya doon na lang kami pumasok,” Vinarao explained why he settled for Mama Mia at $80.
Just like watching the movie version, the live version was done with gusto in terms of costume. “Ang gagaling ng performers. Talagang professional ang mga singers,” said Vinarao with obvious excitement in his voice.
That’s the beauty of the Broadway shows. Production value is at the highest and it seemed like production design is their primary consideration. And to think that there’s stiff competition among the theaters, it’s innovation in the highest degree.
Another show which Vinarao was able to watch was the musical Spiderman for $100. It was surprising to know that Spiderman, the movie, already has a musical version. Broadway indeed is a place of surprises and wonderment.
Vinarao beamed to express his great admiration of the production design. Spiderman, the musical, came in complete with building facades. The performers and the orchestra were all professionals in terms of musical quality.
Majority of the lead actor’s scenes were not on the surface of the stage because Spiderman has to fly and glide most of the time. That means the use of a harness. “Hindi kita ang tali, ang galing ng pagkagawa,” Vinarao said.
The usual capitalization of a Broadway musical runs from $5 million to a high of $15 million. But for Spiderman, the musical, the producers spent a record-setting $75 million dollars in investment.
A scene from Spiderman, the musical. Photo from dailymail.co.uk
Considering the net income of Spiderman – $100K to $300K – per week, it would take them 5 years to recoup the huge capital outlay. The producers are planning to put in some additional scenes, effects and the like in order to lure back the same audience.
A big drawback for the producers were the series of injuries suffered by the cast. British actor Matthew James Thomas, who plays lead Peter Parker was injured backstage so he was replaced.
Back to the innovative pricing scheme of theater seats, one would remember the days of the old moviehouses in downtown Manila. Aside from the orchestra and balcony, there was the loge, the favorite seats of lovers.
Perhaps moviehouses can have their own prime seats similar to the business class of airlines. And when that happens, probably the movie industry may again become alive and kicking hard.
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