The gasps have quieted down now that $480 tickets to Broadway's The Producers have been on sale for nearly a month. Announced as a way to foil scalpers (not to mention raising the weekly grosses to record levels), the price hike counted on the desire of people who really want to see the hit show being willing to pay top-dollar and then some.
Joe Farrell, CEO of Broadway Inner Circle, which handles the big-ticket ticket sales, told Playbill On-Line, "Sales are certainly going well and meeting our expectations. The target market we thought this would appeal to is what we've experienced in our sales: corporate sales, corporate entertaining and what I call `well-heeled travelers,' those individuals coming to New York and trying to see the hottest show in town."
Asked if certain days/performances sold better than others, Farrell said, "It's been very consistent across the board, though obviously, a Wednesday matinee might be a little slower." As for whether tourist sales have been affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that severely hurt Broadway and Off-Broadway three months ago, Farrell noted, "We opened sales post Sept. 11, so we haven't a baseline to establish whether we've been affected positively or negatively."
Farrell did express pleasant surprise that the $480 tickets maintained their appeal even when star Nathan Lane was out of the show, a fairly frequent occurrence (e.g., he's out Dec. 11-12 filming a movie and only recently brought his schedule back to eight shows a week following a throat ailment). "When Lane is out," Farrell said, "we call as many guests as we can. We inform them and ask them if they'd like to go to the show or exchange dates or get a refund. We do express that [understudy] Brad Oscar is extraordinary. And the overwhelming majority chose to go to the show. I think it's because Lane and Broderick are both extraordinary, too, and Mel Brooks shares equal billing with them. They're there to see the show."
No word yet on how long Lane, Broderick and costars Cady Huffman, Brad Oscar, Gary Beach and Roger Bart will stay with the production. According to a Barlow-Hartman spokesperson (reached Dec. 12), Lane and Broderick are contracted until March 17, 2002. Broderick will have a week's vacation, Jan. 8-13, but his planned filming of a television version of "The Music Man" next year won't get in the way of The Producers' schedule unless he stays well past March. The Producers regularly sells out the St. James theatre at 101 percent attendance. The show grossed nearly $1.2 million for the week ending Dec. 9 — nearly $200,000 more than its closest competitor, the equally-sold-out The Lion King.
Lane, who won a Tony for playing Max Bialystock in The Producers, was playing only six performances a week instead of the standard eight for nearly a month. The decision to do this for (at least) two weeks was made after Lane consulted with his doctors; the actor dropped out of the show two weeks ago after a polyp was discovered on his left vocal cord. As such, Lane performed only one show a day, Tuesday through Sunday, forgoing the Wednesday and Saturday matinees, until the week of Nov. 26.
Brad Oscar, Lane's understudy, plays Max Bialystock when Lane is out. Oscar normally plays Nazi playwright Franz.
Lane's struggles with the exhausting nature of the lead role of Max Bialystock have been well documented and led to the diagnosis. The polyp caused the actor to remove himself from the hit musical through Nov. 3, with doctors ordering him not to even speak until his throat healed. According to the Times, the polyp was found on Oct. 30. Since the show opened on Broadway last spring, Lane has occasionally missed performances. The musical requires him to be on stage much of the time, often yelling lines at the top of his voice as well as singing several songs, including the show-stopping comic aria "Betrayed."
"My understanding is this can turn into something very serious if it's not treated," Lane's publicist, Simon Halls told the Times at the time. "There's no permanent damage, but it's in a serious enough place that he's got to take care of it. He doesn't want to blow his voice out at 45. He's got a lot of shows in front of him."
Both Lane and co-star Matthew Broderick are contracted for the show through March 17. "An extension has been broached" for Lane, spokesperson John Barlow noted, "but nothing's confirmable at this point."
In other Producers proddings, productions of the hit tuner outside New York are still in the wait-and-see stage. No word yet (as of Dec. 12) on dates for the sit-down engagement in L.A., and a report from the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain News notes that Denver Center Attractions, which had hoped to land the musical in 2003, won't see it until spring 2004 at the earliest. A Barlow-Hartman spokesperson told Playbill On-Line tour dates are still being worked out.
In further Producers news, Mel Brooks has milked a new revenue source out of the cash cow that is The Producers. The producer composer-librettist-funnyman has put out a new book, modestly titled, "The Producers! The Biggest Hit in the History of Broadway! How We Did It."
The TalkMiramax publication follows the process of developing the tuner, including how Brooks and Meehan went from a film script with two songs to a full-fledged Broadway book and score. The 224-page volume includes the show's dialogue and lyrics, as well as color photographs shot during rehearsals, onstage and behind the scenes.
For tickets and information on The Producers at the St. James Theatre, call (212) 239-5800. For Broadway Inner Circle tickets, call (212) 563-2829.