$480 For Town’s Hottest Ticket? Producers’ Producers Gone Mad

Have the producers of The Producers gone mad? Or are they the sweetheart philanthropists they believe themselves to be? Is the earth flat ?

The news that the folks behind The Producers plan to set aside at least 50 premium seats for every performance and charge an unprecedented $480 a ticket must surely amount to the most laughably unacceptable example of greed in the history of beautiful Broadway.

But remember, these same producers of the biggest hit show in recent memory are really sensitive people. They had intended to announce the plan last month, but delayed because of the Sept. 11 tragedy. Equally sensitive to the timing of the announcement, they have also pledged that a percentage of the new ticket price is to be donated to the Twin Towers Fund. Isn’t that thoughtful?

Let’s look at the facts and the rationalizations, as reported in The Times ‘ front-page story on Oct. 26. “What we’re trying to do here is strike a blow at the heart of the scalping operation,” explained Rocco Landesman, one of the show’s principal producers and the president of Jujamcyn Theaters (which owns the St. James, home to The Producers ). “The scalpers and their profits serve no one but the scalpers. Those monies belong to the people who created the show, pure and simple.”

In other pure and simple words, Mr. Landesman believes he’s taking “those monies” from the pockets of evil scalpers and putting it back into his own. He’s robbing the rich to feed the poor! Never mind that this Robin Hood of showbiz is already sitting on a Producers gold mine and that all concerned are already making small fortunes from the show. In what conceivable way is the new $480 ticket going to put the scalpers out of business?

I’ve just visited http://www.the-producers-tickets.net, one of the Web’s ticket brokerage sites. Seats for the show are readily available any time, at all prices! This Saturday’s matinee and evening performances: 156 priceless seats for sale, from $285 to $877.50 a pop. Thanksgiving Friday? One hundred and sixty-five seats for sale, same price range. Halloween night? Take your pick from 50 seats, from $195 to $810. How about New Year’s Eve? Difficult, but not impossible: 20 seats for sale from $405 to $1,080. From this one Web site alone, tickets are available for any night.

Mr. Landesman and his fellow producers aren’t about to put scalpers out of business. To the contrary, they want to be in on the business. At best, they’re undercutting their top price. “Don’t go to the scalpers,” they are saying. “Come to us.” In effect, they’re making the shady scalping business legitimate.

In what cause? Not for profit, of course. (Profit is never mentioned in all of this.) Their target customer for the $480 ticket is described as “large corporations, first-class tourists and individuals seeking prime locations, frequently on short notice”–a group that previously “had been forced to obtain these seats through brokers unaffiliated with the show.”

Nobody’s forcing anyone to do anything. People–even “first-class” people–are never obliged to deal with rip-off brokers. But apart from the business, what Mr. Landesman and his merry men have in mind is revenue more comparable to the price that big shots pay for corporate suites at Madison Square Garden or the World Series. Except, of course, there aren’t any corporate suites groaning with buffet tables and open bars at the St. James Theatre. Well, not yet.

They’ll just have to pretend. The theatergoing corporate types will have to pretend they’re not sitting next to Joe Public, who’s paid a top ticket price of a mere $100. The hundred smackeroos a ticket was itself a record on Broadway. And who set it? Why, the producers of The Producers , who upped the price of admission just as soon as decency permitted following the rave reviews.

It’s now only a matter of time before other Broadway shows jump on the $480-a-ticket bandwagon–just as the $100 ticket is now considered normal. Where does that leave the rest of us? I mean, people who love the theater and like to support it. This latest example of greed cleaves the already huge rift between those who can still afford to go to Broadway and those who cannot. It’s a damaging and shameful thing for them to have done–without social responsibility or conscience, without a sense of community, and horribly out of touch with the times.

Wasn’t it yesterday that Broadway was on its knees begging us all to “support” it in its darkest hour? Who feels like supporting it now? The dishonest idea that the $480 ticket is “doing good” is the last straw. The producers say they will help the victims of the World Trade Center, pledging to donate $150 from every $480 ticket to the Twin Towers Fund for several months. And after the several months have passed?

They are cravenly trying to make price-gouging seem like a selfless act by hooking into a tragedy. Who are they kidding? It’s simple: If they would like to make a generous donation on behalf of the show to the Twin Tower Fund, let them donate the entire revenue from the $480 ticket. Let them give a gala benefit. Let them offer 50 free seats a night to the grieving families of the firefighters and so many others. But don’t let them tell us they’re doing it for charity.

I hope the Broadway artists themselves–and the stars of The Producers , in particular–are horrified by what’s happening and will make their voices heard. It’s difficult to believe that Mel Brooks, of all great men, had anything to do with any of this. But he’s also one of the show’s producers (which, along with his royalties as creator, composer-lyricist and co-author, is currently earning him an estimated $3 million a year). This wonderful show famously celebrates Broadway by poking affectionate fun at roguish producers. But we have run out of affection now, and this is no fun.

The cheap opportunists behind the $480 ticket must think again about their crass rationalizations and cancel the plan.