Remember when The Producers raised its top ticket price to $100 (actually $99, plus a $1 theatre restoration charge)? Well, it's time to start feeling nostalgic.
As reported by the New York Times Oct. 26 and confirmed by production spokesperson John Barlow, the producers of The Producers are now setting aside fifty prime seats at every performance and charging $480 each.
That's not a misprint. The producers are charging by far the highest Broadway ticket price of all time for these seats, ostensibly to beat scalpers at their own game. Since the best orchestra and mezzanine seats to the show have long been sold out, the only way for people to get them has been to go through ticket brokers and internet ticket sites. Those ducats often have whopping mark-ups, with the none of the extra money going to anyone connected with the show itself. By law, scalpers in New York State can take up to a 20 percent commission on a ticket sale (e.g., $120 for a $100 ticket) — but those rules don't apply to firms located outside New York.
"The scalpers and their profits serve no one but the scalpers," co-producer Rocco Landesman told the Times. "Those monies belong to the people who created the show, pure and simple."
The Times reports that plans for the ticket hike were well underway before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but delayed out of respect for the tragedy. As such, $150 of every $480 ticket sold over the next "several months" will be donated to the Twin Towers Fund. The remaining seats to The Producers will stay at the same price, spokesperson Barlow told Playbill On-Line, with the lowest-priced ducats still at $30 and the weekly potential gross in the $1.2 million range.
Asked if the extra money made from raising ticket prices would make its way to labor unions (such as Actors' Equity and the Dramatists Guild) involved with the production, Barlow said that unions which benefit from the gross of the show will get "increased percentages" based on the new grosses. Actors' Equity Association spokesperson David Lotz elaborated, saying that "people tied in some way to the box office gross — such as directors, choreographers, playwrights — would be affected. Otherwise it doesn't affect [Equity] unless the show's stars have some kind of percentage deal, which we wouldn't be able to comment on. Also it does impact the pension fund. The higher ticket prices will increase monies paid into Equity and other unions' pension funds via the so-called `045 Tax,' which is a tax on the box office that gets diverted to the unions and pension funds. It's to our benefit. And if a lot more money is going into the producers' pockets, that's ultimately good for the industry, too."
For his part, Alan Eisenberg, executive director of Actors' Equity, sees the price hike as a red flag for future contract negotiations. "This proves that a great deal of the success of a Broadway musical is due to the actors," he said, "and there should be a complete reexamination of how our actors are paid."
To put things into perspective, average Broadway ticket prices paid for the week of Oct. 8-14 ranged from $38.33 (Hedda Gabler) to $79.28 (The Producers), with most others in the $40-$50 range. A check of current daily newspapers found these other items in the Producers' price range:
Sony 27" Trinitron TV: $549.95.
Pinnacle Chaise Recliner: $449.
Panasonic PV-DV101 Video Camera: $469.99
New York to New Delhi, $450 (one-way, taxes not included)
Twenty-three sweaters at H&M: $483.
Forty cubic zirconia princess cut stud earrings: $479.60
"I think The Producers is a totally unique phenomenon," one source told Playbill On-Line, "so I doubt this is going to be a trend."
Ultimately, The Producers' ticket hike follows the basic tenets of Capitalism: purveyors of goods and services charge what the market will allow. In the case of Broadway theatre tickets, prices inch up every year or so. Usually, one producer will notch a $5 or $10 top ticket increase to test the waters, soon followed by nearly everyone else. When, the day after its April 19 opening and flush with rave reviews, The Producers raised its top ticket price from $90 to $99 (plus $1 theatre renovation charge), whatever hue and cry was raised about the cost of going to the theatre was met with a response about the costs of making theatre.
The fallout? The Producers regularly tops previous weekly box office office champ The Lion King. Both invariably sell 100-101 percent of their weekly tickets, and the St. James actually has fewer seats than The Lion King's New Amsterdam, but with the price boost, Bialystock and Bloom can make roughly $30K more a week than Simba and Nala. (The Lion King's top ticket is now $95). With the ice broken, there was little surprise that the fall's most widely anticipated commercial musical, Mamma Mia!, arrived with a $99 top as well. The Producers is far from the first show to ask for $100 per ticket, but the other instances tended to be expensive limited-runs (The Iceman Cometh) special epics (Nicholas Nickleby and both halves of The Kentucky Cycle) or special incentives (the V.I.P. packages for Ragtime).
At the time that The Producers went to $99, producer Jack Viertel speculated that other Broadway productions would soon follow suit in breaking the C-note barrier. It turns out that the first show across that bridge is his own.