Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Vista drops The Producers; Another Victim of the Recession

The New Vista Theatre has had a change in its line-up; it has dropped its schedule production of The Producers and replaced it with Avi Hoffman's Still Jewish After All These Years.

According to the New Vista website:

ProducersBox-747682This ALL NEW production by national PBS star and Florida favorite – Avi Hoffman – will take you on a nostalgic, fun-filled journey through his extensive and entertaining life and works.

In this new musical celebration, Avi invites you along on an intimate and casual tour through his exhilarating career, sharing engaging songs and stories of an extraordinary life in show business. His humorous and moving encounters with theater luminaries such as Theo Bikel, Jack Carter and Bruce Adler will have you laughing through your tears.

Still Jewish After All These Years will be followed by a limited engagement of Eva's Song, featuring Anita Keal.

The Theatre Scene actually learned that The Producers was being dropped several weeks ago, but did not report on it at the request of New Vista's management. It appears that the show was the victim of lagging ticket sales caused by the recession; book musicals are the most expensive shows to produce, and the The Producers is a large cast show with fairly stiff royalties. It was probably not helped by the fact that the national tour has been through South Florida several times in the last few years.

While it's always disappointing to see a schedule change, in these tough economic times producers must consider the bottom line. This is why so many shows are closing on Broadway this month; productions with thin profit margins are too risky to keep running, especially when the trend is towards less patronage.

A producer recently explained that a hidden source of debt can be found in the difference between tickets sold and tickets actually used; back when gasoline was hitting $4 a gallon, people were abandoning tickets they had already bought. Since refunds are not offered, they simply walked away from that expense. Why? Because the cost of the tickets were not necessarily the largest expense in seeing the show, and certainly not the only revenue stream for the show.

Shows like Wicked or even Sesame Street Live do a tremendous business in souvenirs. If you're bringing your kids to see these shows, they are going to want t-shirts, books, or balloons. Factor in gas, parking, and concessions, and you find that you're spending as much on those things as the tickets, and in many cases, more.

Gas prices have dropped, but for Broadway, the expenses are still high: most people seeing Broadway shows are traveling to NYC to do it. That means plane tickets and hotels and going out for meals. Perhaps a pair of tickets cost you $200. But the weekend could run you an additional $2000 very easily, and that's if you're thrifty. It surely stings to walk away from hundreds of dollars, but weighed against costs in the thousands, it's not hard to see why it happens.

So while at first glance, ticket sales don't seem to have dropped drastically, when you factor in the loss of the additional revenue from lobby kiosks, it's a much bigger hit to the bottom line than it appears.

New Vista is not the first company to feel the sting: very theatre in the country has seen a drop in sales: locally, Actors' Playhouse canceled the final week of Gutenberg, The Musical. And of course, one third of Broadway shows are closing this month.

The good news is that there are great deals for tickets available. Every theatre has ticket deals of various sorts: take advantage of them. There's always the Cultural Connection, offering same-day discount tickets to shows all over South Florida.

In the meantime, don't be surprised to see theatres dropping larger shows in favor of smaller, simpler productions. The alternative is seeing theatres close entirely, and that is far worse.

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