Is Broadway's Darkest Hour a Chance for People to Rediscover Off-Broadway?

News   Is Broadway's Darkest Hour a Chance for People to Rediscover Off-Broadway? The current musicians' strike that has prompted the shutdown of some 18 musicals on Broadway is the cause for personal, professional and economic pain for a wide range of people.

Among them are artists, technical folk, theatregoers, producers and ancillary retailers and restaurateurs.

In the short term, however, the combination of a lack of big Broadway hits and a surplus of tourists — or theatregoers hungry for their live fix — is a good thing for Off-Broadway plays and musicals.

Will audiences shut out of The Lion King on 42nd Street walk a few blocks west on that famed pavement to discover the new musical, Zanna, Don't!, now in previews at the John Houseman Theatre following its critically-embraced fall 2002 tryout?

A spokesman for the quirky musical comedy told Playbill On-Line there was an upsurge in March 7-9 walkup sales for the show, which is within blocks of the Broadway theatre district. The strike on Broadway musicals began March 7.

Performances of Zanna, Don't!, a big-hearted show about an alternate universe where gay is straight and straight is gay, were sold out Saturday March 8 and Sunday March 9, a spokesman said. And yes, the show offers live music. Off-Broadway musicals operate under a different contract with musicians' Local 802 than at Broadway houses. Marc Routh, president of the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers, told Playbill On-Line that he is hearing from his members that there was an "uptick" in Off-Broadway business March 7-9 due the strike.

Routh, a producer of Stomp, said walkup was good at the Orpheum Theatre, where that long-runner plays. Weekends usually see 90 percent capacity there, but it was better than that over the weekend of March 7.

Waving flags or pointing signs to Off-Broadway during the strike is not likely to happen, since many producers (including Routh) are members of both the Off-Broadway and Broadway leagues of producers and theatres; it's the latter league that remains in conflict with the musicians' union on Broadway. Routh said the strategy from the Off-Broadway league right now is to simply remind people that Off-Broadway is open for business as usual.

Routh and his colleagues pricked up their ears when they read a quote in the March 8 New York Times from an Ottawa, Ontario tourist who was frustrated by the strike. Julia Brady, a tourist from Ottawa, Ontario, told the Times: "It's confusing, what's canceled and what's not. Some shows are going on, but I don't even know where Off-Broadway is."

Routh said that committees in the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers consistently explore ways to increase the profile of Off-Broadway and remind people that "it's a state of mind" and not about "a part of town."

The Off-Broadway league attempts year-round to push the notion that Off-Broadway is a more intimate theatrical experience, that theatres are not holes-in-the-wall and that since Off-Broadway venues are spread around town the experience becomes not just about exploring a show or a troupe, but about investigating a neighborhood.

There "was definitely a spike over the weekend" for walkup sales of the popular and long-running Off-Broadway musical revue, I Love You, You're Perfect, No Change, a spokesman said. While business us usually good this time of the year for the hit, Friday-Sunday performances were especially full, and it wasn't from pre sale. I Love You's home is the Westside Theatre on 43rd Street, a few blocks from Times Square.

The Westside's other tenant, the new comedy, Barbara's Wedding, was sold out the evening of March 8, and walkup business was strong over the weekend, a spokesperson said.

It was less easy to tell if the new Playwrights Horizons musical, My Life With Albertine, was impacted by the strike. That Richard Nelson-Ricky Ian Gordon show inspired by Proust was in press previews over the weekend and much of PH's mainstage venue on West 42nd Street was already filled.

Fifth of July, which is being revived by Signature Theatre Company is mostly sold out, a spokesperson said, so it remained unaffected by walkup business.

If there is spillover business from the strike in the midtown area, Michael John LaChiusa's new musical, Little Fish, could only feel it for one weekend. The show's final weekend was March 7-9, but "we did sell more, we did see a spike in walkup sales," according to a spokesman for Second Stage on West 43rd Street. "I think they were people looking for replacement shows."

a spokesman for Second Stage, on West 43rd Street, said.

Likewise, Forbidden Broadway at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre on West 42nd Street saw a rise in walkup business March 7-9. One industry wag said, "You can see all the shows on strike in Forbidden Broadway," the perennial satiric review of Broadway and American theatre.

Off-Broadway, of course, is not limited to mid-town. Downtown at the Variety Arts Theatre, on Third Avenue, performances of Adult Entertainment, the new play by Elaine May, were sold out over the weekend. A spokesperson said the comedy about porn stars who want to make more artful movies usually sells well on weekends, but March 7-9 was "exceptionally strong."

Also seeing that a boost in business over the weekend, likely due to the strike, said spokespeople, were MCC's Scattergood and Atlantic Theater Company's Dublin Carol.