Is It Curtains for Broadway's Ragtime?; Producers Mull

News   Is It Curtains for Broadway's Ragtime?; Producers Mull Members of the Broadway company of Ragtime were told the week of Oct. 18 that the opulently-staged musical about the turn of the last century might not be around at the dawn of the new century.

SFX Entertainment Inc., which acquired Ragtime when it bought Livent in 1999, is looking at various options for the expensive-to-run Tony Award-winner, several company members confirmed.

Those options, outlined in a New York Times item Oct. 22, include shutting down and scaling back the cast, scenic elements and crew at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts (which would require a six-week hiatus, per Actors' Equity); scaling back and moving to another theatre (as The Scarlet Pimpernel has done), which would leave the Ford Center free for rental; or closing the show for good, also leaving the theatre available for rental.

One company member said he was told by his boss the show will likely shut down. SFX/Pace has not made an official statement about the future of the show. The Times quoted Pace chairman Miles Wilkin saying that information has been studied and a decision and announcement may come within the month.

The Music Man, Jane Eyre and Jesus Christ Superstar are among the homeless incoming shows looking for shelter before the late April end of the 1999-2000 season.

Pace Theatrical Group, under the umbrella of SFX, scaled back the national tour of Ragtime in 1999 by trimming cast and scenic elements. Regional reviews have been favorable, suggesting the Tony Award-winning score can survive a more human-scale mounting. On the road, the show's once-elaborate moving bridges and walkways were scrapped in favor of actor-driven scenes (J.P. Morgan plows down immigrants on a railway cart, for example).

Observers say that Broadway will never again see the opulence of Ragtime, which has an acting company of 59. More than 100 people are in service of the show for every performance.

The week of Oct. 11-17 the production grossed $600,010 of a possible $892,172. Weekly attendance has hovered around 85 percent for several weeks, which is solid for a smaller show, but less desirable for a high maintenance production like Ragtime.

"The cost of running the show is so high," said one insider. The Times reported the show's running cost as $530,000 a week.

The now-deposed producer Garth Drabinsky, the Livent founder, believed in attaching all the bells and whistles to his shows, and Ragtime is a prime example of his showmanship: The show includes moving bridges and walkways, rising and falling stage floors, a large cast, sets pieces that only appear briefly in the three-hour performance, and more.

Drabinsky was accused of financial misconduct by those who succeeded him at Livent.

Ragtime opened in the 1997-1998 Broadway season at Livent's Ford Center for the Performing Arts. It won four Tony Awards -- for Terrence McNally's book, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's score, Ahren's orchestrations and Audra McDonald's Featured Actress performance.

In a heated competition, it lost Best Musical to The Lion King.

Critics were split on the show, either calling it a cold spectacle formed by committee or a pageant of 20th century humanity and emotion.

The show had a pre-Broadway tryout in Toronto in 1996-97.