Though most of the downtown denizens depicted in Broadway's Rent barely have two nickels to rub together, theatregoers hoping to see the Jonathan Larson musical on a Saturday night better have 1,600 nickels -- or the equivalent -- at the ready. The New York Post accurately reported (Mar. 12) that top tickets for weekend performances of Rent at the Nederlander Theatre will rise from $75 to $80, beginning June 30.
[For more information, please see Playbill On-Line's story, "New York's Rent To Go Up -- But Not Everywhere."]
NY Post reporter Ward Morehouse III has now followed up on his story (Mar. 17), quoting several unnamed ticket brokers saying that other Broadway shows would follow suit and raise their prices to $80 by summertime. Productions mentioned in the story include Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Morehouse called press reps for both shows and notes in his story that they denied the ticket hikes. (Ragtime spokesperson Mary Bryant told Morehouse that show had no plans to raise prices either.)
Responding to the article, headlined "B'way Prices Hit The Ceiling," the Cameron Mackintosh office hit the ceiling. In a statement released by spokespersons at the Publicity Office, Mackintosh calls Morehouse's story "simply wrong... There are absolutely no plans to raise the top ticket prices for either The Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, yet [Morehouse] still managed, by quoting unnamed sources not associated with the productions, to give the general public the false impression that we are raising our top ticket prices... I believe $75 to be a high enough ticket price for a big musical."
Mackintosh general manager Alan Wasser then went on record blasting Morehouse for writing "erroneous and misleading stories about Broadway that have often proven to be harmful to the industry. Today's fabricated story is just one more example." The theatre media has recently been gunning for Morehouse, from an Oct. 1997 InTheater magazine rundown (by David Barbour) of NY Post errors, to a recent attack on Morehouse by Ken Mandelbaum on InTheater's website.
[Mandelbaum, who is a columnist for Playbill On-Line, also criticized Playbill On-Line for quoting a Post story he said he had reported first.]
Reached at Theatre Crafts & Lighting Dimensions (Mar. 17), Barbour said of his column, "My editor [Kathy Henderson] said it would be a good idea to do it. I wasn't even reading [Morehouse] then, but I started to, and his columns always has a million little mistakes in it. At one point, he said A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum had closed and it wasn't closed at all. He said The Pajama Game takes place in NY's Garment District, it doesn't. That's a big mistake to be putting in the Post. And he's always announcing shows that don't happen (Betting On Bertie, David Merrick doing 42nd Street on 42nd Street)."
Responding to the barbs, Morehouse told Playbill On-Line (Mar. 17), "I don't blame anyone for reacting vigorously to anything I do. I'm never offended by it and have no animosity to anyone who criticizes. That's the name of the game in theatre, to some extent. If we do stories that are perceived the wrong way or as troublesome, people have a right to complain. But we also go out of our way to write something positive when the time comes. It's all fair."
As for the ticket hike piece, Morehouse says the New York Post "sticks by the story, and we think prices are gonna go up. I didn't name several sources because very often ticket brokers don't want to be quoted by name. We knew the Publicity Office were going to deny the story... they did deny it, and that's in the story."
Added Morehouse, "One astute observation we didn't have room for in the story is that more and more what we might see in tickets is tickets being priced like the airlines do. First class being much more expensive. Ragtime's doing it already with the $125 VIP tickets. You can't get those same good orchestra seats without paying extra for those services. So even though you do get additional services, which may be worth an extra $50, you couldn't get those seats for the lower prices."
Morehouse says that unlike producers, press agents and others directly involved in the theatre process, he can be more of a consumer advocate. "Sometimes the average consumer is not represented. When you hike Rent tickets to $80, you may well be raising the top to expand the bottom [make more lower-priced tickets available]. But you're also sending out a signal to other shows that the ceiling has been broken."
Responding to Mandelbaum's charges that (in the case of a story about Angela Lansbury appearing in a musicalized version of The Visit) Morehouse surfed the InTheater site and then jumped on the story posted there without giving credit, Morehouse said, "I have my own sources. There's plenty of news and information for everybody."
But what about the errors? "We've had no stories to retract," Morehouse told Playbill On-Line. He also mentioned a number of stories that turned out to be true, despite initial denials from press agents and producers. Four years ago Disney was telling me they weren't gonna do The Lion King. Or when we wrote that Tony Roberts was calling in sick from Victor/Victoria when Liza Minnelli was starring in it. It was denied, but Roberts was later interviewed in the New York Observer and confirmed it. When David Copperfield was on Broadway, he denied using shills in the audience; later the NY Times confirmed that he was."
Morehouse also pointed to a number of stories that were broken by the Post: Whoopi Goldberg going into Forum ("Nathan Lane held up the front cover that night and said, `In case you didn't see the Post...'"), Julie Andrews refusing her Tony nomination, the Tonys going into Radio City Music Hall and Rosie O'Donnell's involvement with the show. Morehouse also stands by the story, months ago, of Arnold Schwarzenegger mulling going into The King And I. "They were in talks with Schwarzenegger -- that's all we said. And I confirmed that with Dodger head Michael David's people." The Daily News also ran its own version of the Schwarzenegger story.