Theater things that don’t make sense: Vol. 8

I was recently at a big ol’ touring house outside of NYC.  You know, one of those theaters in major metro areas all over the country that presents big national tours like Billy Elliot and Mary Poppins as well as concerts, lectures, local dance recitals and more.

I was talking to the TD of this theater, and he was telling me about his house plot.  You know, the bank of lighting instruments owned by the theater that can be used for small shows, or used to augment big shows, etc. (which allows touring shows to travel with less, saving them money in rentals and trucking and load-in time).  A house plot is one of the reasons that Altar Boyz was able to tour all over the country.

So I started thinking . . .

Why don’t Broadway houses have house plots?

If there were a string of basic instruments in each house, we could save time, money, and I’d bet a lot of those dark weeks that some theaters face could be filled by smaller shows or special events that wouldn’t normally be able to get their shows up without this savings . . . which would provide more jobs for everyone.  (The owners of New World Stages recently added a house plot to one of their small theaters, and it’s been booked more often because of it).

The theater owners could even charge a few more bucks for use of the package, paying for (and profiting from) their initial purchase of the equipment.

It’s my understanding that the current stagehand contract prevents leaving elements from one show to be used for another show without payment (since the guys are losing hours of work). While that argument seems to be another ‘theater thing that doesn’t make sense,’ I would think that a compromise could be had, since this “house plot” idea is in use all over the country, and since the existence of the plot could generate more gigs for the stagehands in the future.

With our costs escalating just about everywhere, we’ve got to look at ways to become more efficient . . . which means looking at things in ways we’ve never looked at them before.

Have we seen the last of the looooong running musical?

I’ve written about long running shows by decade before, but I felt the subject deserved another look as a whole.  So, as of this Sunday, take a look at Top 10 Longest Running Shows on Broadway:

Show # of Perfs Year Opened
1 The Phantom of the Opera* 8907 1988
2 Cats 7485 1982
3 Les Miserables 6680 1987
4 A Chorus Line 6137 1975
5 Oh! Calcutta! 5959 1974
6 Beauty and the Beast 5461 1994
7 Chicago* 5236 1996
8 Rent 5123 1996
9 The Lion King* 4821 1997
10 Miss Saigon 4092 1991
*still running
5 of these marathoners or 50% of the longest running musicals on Broadway are from the decade of glorious growth, the 90s.
30% are from the British Invasion of the 80s.  And the remaining 20% are from the 70s.
Let’s take a little trip further down the long runner list, shall we?  Here is a list of the 11th – 30th Longest Running Broadway Shows:


Show # of Perfs Year Opened
11 42nd Street 3486 1980
12 Grease 3388 1972
13 Fiddler on the Roof 3242 1964
14 Life with Father 3224 1939
15 Mamma Mia!* 3184 2001
16 Tobacco Road 3182 1933
17 Hello, Dolly! 2844 1964
18 My Fair Lady 2717 1956
19 Hairspray 2642 2002
20 The Producers 2502 2001
21 Avenue Q 2446 2003
22 Cabaret 2377 1998
23 Annie 2377 1977
24 Wicked* 2342 2003
25 Man of La Mancha 2328 1965
26 Abie’s Irish Rose 2327 1922
27 Oklahoma! 2212 1943
28 Smokey Joe’s Café 2036 1995
29 Pippin 1944 1972
30 South Pacific 1925 1949

There are only 2 musicals on this list that are still running and have a shot at cracking into the top 10:  Mamma Mia needs another 2 years, and Wicked needs 4.  I expect both to make it, which will give the 2000s (or the “aughts”) 2 spots in the top 10.

If you keep going down the list, there are 3 more musicals that are still running that could conceivably have a shot:  Jersey Boys (#54), Mary Poppins (#89), and Billy Elliot (too far down to count).  Jersey Boys has probably got a chance, thanks to its low overhead, but I doubt the other two will go the distance.
If those falsetto-singing boys from Jersey make the cut (and they still need another (gulp) 7 years), then that will give the aughts a 30% representation in the top 10 longest running shows.  Not so bad.
But if they don’t, and if the Mamma Mia movie madness wears off and that show doesn’t make the cut, we could be looking at only one show from this decade to be in the Top 10.
And is it just me, or does it seem like there isn’t anything on the horizon that has twenty year staying power?
Then again, the day before Rent opened on Broadway, I bet no one thought it would run for 5123 performances.

Who is in line at the TKTS booth? We found out!

Did you ever wonder who is standing in line for hours waiting for that half-price (or 40%, 30% or 20%-off ticket)?  Did you ever wonder where they were from (and how that
compared with the overall Broadway audience)?  And what shows those
peeps wanted to see?

We did!

Every show I’ve worked on has had a “booth strategy”, even if that
strategy is not to go there.

Well, as I often say, you can’t have a
strategy without statistics (actually, that’s not true . . . you CAN
have a strategy without statistics . . . but that strategy usually

So we sent out a team of PPers to take a survey of 500 of those bargain
hunters, and here are the questions we asked and the
exclusive results:


1.  Are you male or female?

42.4% male
57.6% female

2.  Where are you from?

80% from outside the tri-state area
16% from the tri-state area

3.  Do you want to see a Broadway show, an Off-Broadway show or does it matter?

77.2% preferred Broadway
3% preferred Off-Broadway
15.8% had no preference

4.  Do you want to see a play or a musical or either?

8.60% preferred a play
79.80% preferred a musical
10.40% had no preference

5.  When you got in line today, did you know exactly what show you
wanted to see or did you wait to get in line to make your decision?

60.80% knew what show they wanted to see
39.20% didn’t know what show they wanted to see

6.  Have you ever paid full price for a Broadway show?

65.60% have paid full price for Bway
34.20% have never paid full price for Bway

7.  What show do you want to see?

The following were the top five shows requested in order of popularity.
1. Chicago    
2. Phantom  
3. Mamma Mia  
4. Mary Poppins 
5. Avenue Q

Were the results what you thought they would be?  How did they differ?

And the most important question of all, what can you do with these results to strengthen your strategy?  The old rule about taking surveys and doing focus groups is not to do them, unless you’re prepared to do something with the results.

The most exciting stat to me?  Almost 4 out of every 10 people in line
haven’t made up their mind on what show they want to see when they get on line.  Now, if
you’ll excuse me, I have to go come up with some ideas on how to
increase my booth presence.

Special thanks to my assistants, Amanda, Krysta and LA for collecting the data.

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Top Five Biggest Broadway Grossers of ’08. Are we like the movies?

As promised, here’s the follow up to yesterday’s post re: the top 10 grossing domestic films of 2008.

Since the film industry produces so much more product than we do, I thought it best to compare the top 10 grossing films domestically with the top 5 grossing shows (interesting to note that there isn’t an off-Broadway in film – pretty much everything gets lumped together – that’s a subject for another post).

Before I name the Top 5 Grossers . . . can you guess what they are?

Go on.  Give a shot.

When you’ve got them in your head, scroll down.

scroll . . .

scroll . . .

scroll . . .

Almost there . . .

scroll . . .

scroll . . .

scroll . . .

Here we go . . .

1.  Wicked                                    $75,641,794
2.  The Lion King                         $61,014,194
3.  Jersey Boys                            $58,871,925
4.  The Little Mermaid                  $49,184,168
5.  Mamma Mia                            $47,580,493

Well?  Think we have the same trends as the film industry?

I’m not so sure if the trends are as strong, but there is certainly something there.  3 out of 5 are the same big budget “fantasies” that the film audiences love.  And the other two are jukebox musicals.

And all based on pre-exisiting material – either a book, a movie, or a songbook.

Curious about the 2nd set of 5?  Here’s where we start to mix it up a bit:

6.  Mary Poppins                           $42,743,618
7.  The Phantom Of The Opera    $39,044,221
8.  South Pacific                            $35,817,950* (partial year)
9.  In The Heights                          $34,001,301* (partial year)
10.  Spamalot                                $32,386,699

Or do we?  Once again . . . all are based on pre-existing material, except for one.

Now which shows do you think will make the Top 5 next year?

Special thanks to Beverley D. Mac Keen and New World Stages for the research and for allowing me to borrow their cool spreadsheets.