Times Finds Broadway Healthy, But Is The House Padded?

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The New York Times looks at the box office health of Broadway and pronounces it sound. To them the strong audiences for previews of West Side Story "represent a clear fact amid the uncertainty about the near-term future of the Broadway economy: Audiences have not given up on the theater at this point in the downturn, and producers haven't either." The second assurance is more demonstrable than the first (and the quoted producers tellingly hedge their bets).

True, a lot of new shows are opening, and attendance is not too much worse than same time last year. But as Variety points out this week, the current B.O. is weighed with previews, which historically draw a local crowd rather than the tourist throngs on which Broadway survives. The seven previewing shows boast either famous properties or big names. West Side Story and Hair ought to last, but our expectations are lower for Exit the King (Ionesco? Really?), 33 Variations (can Jane Fonda outlast Nicole Kidman?), God of Carnage, and Impressionism. (Blithe Spirit, pick 'em.) And how long will it take audiences to catch on that the Guys and Dolls revival that just finished its first well-comped week is, in Terry Teachout's words, an "over-designed piece of high-dollar plastic that belongs in a warm-weather theme park, not on Broadway"?

Still, it's all tinsel and glamour, so let's enjoy the effect while we can. Photo (cc) jorbasa.

Update: A commenter points out that the abovementioned shows in previews are limited engagements, which usually make money. Let's wish success to them and whatever comes in after; Broadway could use a winning streak.

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