Reflections on the Great White Way
Flashing lights, a pop-rock score, and actors whizzing by on roller skates! I couldn’t have been more than 11 years old, and there I sat in the Gershwin Theater experiencing my very first Broadway musical, “Starlight Express!”
My parents weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we lived a comfortable middle class existence in the outer borough of Queens. My mother, an avid opera and theater fan, always looked for ways to expose my brother and me to the fine arts. And, while dad was more of a “beer and baseball” kind of guy, he, too, enjoyed the finer things in life. So, after a casual conversation at a family gathering with my Godmother (also a theater junkie), my parents thought it was time to introduce my brother and me to the glittering lights of the Great White Way.
The evening started off with a crash — quite literally. On the day of the performance, mom picked us up from school, scurried us into the house to get us changed (no jeans and sneakers to a Broadway show, thank you very much), and whisked us into our car where we proceeded to Bensonhurst to pick up my Godmother. From what I can recall, we were right on schedule to wait in line to purchase discount tickets at the TKTS booth in Duffy Square. It was first come, first serve at TKTS, and I held my breath, hoping upon hope the tickets for the evening performance weren’t sold out!
Success! Mom returned to the car with five tickets. First, though, we had to park the car. That’s when it happened.
The garage my father chose had one of those twisting entrance ramps that went on for what seemed like an eternity before you actually reached an attendant. Let me put it this way, we never reached “forever.” At the time, my parents drove a used Lincoln Continental the size of, oh, let’s say, the U.S.S. Intrepid, and as we were winding our way down the ramp, my dad sideswiped the wall.
Everyone was fine, but it was an unwelcomed and unexpected sideshow to the evening’s events. Miraculously, though, we made it for the performance’s curtain. The musical was a spectacle like nothing I had ever seen before! And, I thank you, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber for giving me my first taste of the narcotic that is Broadway. Twenty years later, it is an addiction I choose not to break.
That night was more than an introduction. It was an initiation. I became a member of the legions who have had the privilege to witness some of the greatest performers in the world take to the boards — Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, Mickey Rooney, Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Patti Lupone, Michael Crawford, and the list goes on and on.
But, I ask, will future generations be able to say the same? To put it mildly, Broadway is not cheap. According to a 2007 New York Times article, the average paid admission for a show between 1946 and 1947 was $3.90. From 1986 to 1987, theater goers paid, on average, $29.42, and that jumped to $76.32 between 2006 and 2007. And, for the week ending May 17, 2009, the average ticket price for a show ranged from $48.00 to $109.88.
I concede. There are great deals out there to be found. (Keep an eye out in the Sunday papers. My family found a terrific 2 for 1 promotion that allowed us to introduce my little cousins to the wonder that is “Mary Poppins.”) But, with so many “deals” available, does that not mean there is an unstated agreement that ticket prices are just way out of line? Shouldn’t discounted prices, then, be more of the rule than the exception? And, with the new discovery that the Broadway League — the trade association of owners and producers — has been charging a $1 league fee on discounted tickets sold at TKTS booths even though they successfully fought and prevented a state tax on theater tickets recently, I ask, “Is nothing sacred?”
Perhaps, Broadway producers should take a cold hard look at the facts. New Yorkers — an obvious target audience for Broadway shows — think the price of admission is out of line. In fact, The Marist Poll found that 72% of New York City residents think Broadway shows are not affordable for the average person. That includes 81% of those who have seen a show in the last three years. Even worse, perhaps, is that 47% of New Yorkers think Broadway shows are not a good value for their money.
There is nothing in the world like Broadway! And, trust me when I say, I do not begrudge the struggling actors, singers, and dancers their rightful due. These men, women, and children bring the words and music to life night after night. But, there must be some way to strike a balance — to make Broadway affordable while compensating the talented professionals who act, sing, and/or dance their hearts out six days a week. If not, I fear that entire generations to come will miss out on the magic that is Broadway.