Only on Broadway: While the Economy Tanks, Ticket Prices Rise!

(It’s also known as the “Theater Restoration Fee”: We’re paying the owners to “restore” their own theaters. In 2007, there were over 12 million tickets sold on Broadway. That little $1.50 Restoration Fee made theater owners another $18 million.)

So you’ve forked out $486 for Shrek through Ticketmaster, Broadway’s official ticket outlet. But you now face a further “service charge” and “handling fee.” The service charge is for issuing the four tickets (that’ll be $28); the handling fee is for delivering them (e-mail, $2.50; regular mail, $4).

Congratulations! You now have your tickets for Shrek, and the cost has only gone from $486 to $516.50 because you didn’t have them sent by mail.

But there’s even more good news! Is it that you’ve opted to order takeout pizza and stay home to watch the Shrek video with the kids instead?

No! The good news is that the theater where Shrek is playing isn’t owned by Jujamcyn Theaters. Earlier this season, Jujamcyn began a new, extremely thoughtful initiative that put a higher price tag on aisle seats. They did this because they know that even the best seats at their theaters are so cramped that audience members have been known to cry out in agony from leg cramps. All Broadway seats are like this, but Jujamcyn was the first to charge between $17 and $25, in addition to the full price, for the privilege of sitting on the aisle.

An aisle seat for Chekhov’s The Seagull, for example, could therefore be as ludicrously high as $135. The proud model for Jujamcyn’s aisle gouging is the variable ticket prices on an airline (where you pay extra for every inch). What’s the difference between sitting on a plane and in a theater? One always makes you feel miserable; the other isn’t supposed to.

Now here’s a coincidence: Many seasons ago, I felt so cramped reviewing a revival of The Sound of Music from my aisle seat in a Jujamcyn theater that I publicly challenged Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn, to sit in the same expensive seat and tell me that it isn’t as uncomfortable as sitting at the back of the plane.

He didn’t accept the challenge. Perhaps he didn’t want to sit through his misbegotten production of The Sound of Music.

What’s to be done about all these greedy Broadway producers? Attend to the tale of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, which notoriously introduced the $450 and $375 tickets for suckers, and the $120 ticket for really poor people. It’s closing. The public didn’t buy it.

 

FINALLY, it’s worth reminding ourselves that Broadway is a highly successful, near-billion-a-year industry. In many ways, it is the city—at least the city I love. I first came from London to live here 28 years ago, and one night I was standing outside a Broadway theater when there was a sudden flurry of activity, and Mayor Koch stepped out of a limo and ran slap into me. “Going to a show, Mr. Mayor?” I asked him.

He took a beat and replied, “I am the show!”

I knew then, if I may say so, that this was my kind of town. But these are extraordinary days, and I fear for the winter ahead and for the future of theater in particular. It’s time for Broadway producers to wake up and do the decent thing: Bring down the prohibitive cost of tickets for the good of all.

jheilpern@observer.com

Only on Broadway: While the Economy Tanks, Ticket Prices Rise!