Broadway Ready For Its Bow — But Are Audiences? The new theater season is at hand — and with high fuel prices and a general economic downturn, you might expect showbiz types to be anxious about audiences. Reporter Jeff Lunden says you might be wrong.
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Broadway Ready For Its Bow — But Are Audiences?

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Broadway Ready For Its Bow — But Are Audiences?

Broadway Ready For Its Bow — But Are Audiences?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

September is the traditional start of the new season on Broadway. Given the combination of high fuel prices, a weakening dollar and the general economic downturn, you might expect people in the industry to be skittish about prospects. Reporter Jeff Lunden says you might be wrong.

JEFF LUNDEN: Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Day by day. Day by day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAY BY DAY")

LUNDEN: Variety's Gordon Cox says the economy may be weak, but there's no shortage of shows hoping to make it big on Broadway this season.

GORDON COX: There's still plenty of shows jostling for theaters, and there's still a real estate crunch, and shows want theaters, and people want to put on shows still. And the fact that there were other shows to fill in the void left by "Godspell" or any of these shows that may not make it in this season does indicate that investors and producers are still sort of gung-ho about bringing product to Broadway.

LUNDEN: Broadway is a notoriously risky business. Four out of five shows fail to make back their investment. But Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, a trade organization of producers, is bullish about the upcoming season.

CHARLOTTE ST: It certainly doesn't seem like, in the actual purchase of tickets, that there's been any economic downturn. I think it's a natural tendency for people to read the newspaper and say oh, well, if that show didn't work out, it's the economy. But so far, we don't see it. I mean, I was just looking, and we have 22 new shows already on the books to open in the coming year, and that's a lot.

SCOTT MALLALIEU: Historically, for groups, when times are bad, theater actually is usually very good.

LUNDEN: Scott Mallalieu is president of the Group Sales Box Office. Groups are an important component of the Broadway audience, and their advance sales dollars help fill new shows' coffers.

MALLALIEU: Most of them book six to eight months in advance. So while people haven't really felt that economy problem five months ago, they may be feeling it now. But they've already purchased their theater tickets and their plane and their bus tickets, and they're ready to go and actually looking forward to it because it keeps their mind off their other problems.

LUNDEN: In fact, the Broadway League's Charlotte Martin thinks, to a certain degree, Broadway is inoculated from the sluggish economy because it draws much of its audience from among foreign tourists and is also located in the center of America's largest metropolitan area.

ST: We're fortunate in New York, with the weak dollar and with the amount of international tourism that we have, that ticket sales are constantly boosted with our out-of-town visitors. And then, as a former tourism executive, I know that when people cut back on their budgets a bit, they tend to go regional. So I suspect we're also benefiting from people who are going to New York instead of Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICA")

MALLALIEU: (Singing) I like to be in America. Okay by me in America. Everything free in America.

LUNDEN: One song you will be hearing later this season is "America," from a revival of "West Side Story." Scott Mallalieu says that even before the show opens, it's been doing brisk business.

MALLALIEU: Even though they don't have a theater yet - again, this is the way the business runs, sometimes. You know, "West Side Story" announces, all of a sudden we have all these orders pending for "West Side Story."

LUNDEN: Making their Broadway debuts in the next few months are Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe, in Peter Shaffer's "Equus," Kristin Scott Thomas in "The Seagull," and Katie Holmes in "All My Sons." For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

MONTAGNE: And if you can make a Broadway show, we have a complete list of what's opening this fall at our Web site: npr.org. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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