Producers David S. Singer, Thomas Viertel and Richard Frankel are reportedly working in tandem with international media company Bertelsmann A.G. to cultivate an untapped market -- the millions of tourists who flock to Times Square every year but never actually see a Broadway show.
The plan is to turn casual Times Square tourists into Broadway theatre initiates by getting them to purchase a relatively inexpensive $25 ticket to a Broadway show experience titled the "Spirit of Broadway." Though only an hour long, the program would be presented at the Lyceum Theatre and would feature songs, characterizations of Broadway legends, a museum and taped promos of current Broadway shows.
Opposition to the plan comes from Shubert Organization chairman Gerald Schoenfeld. The Shuberts own the Lyceum, one of Broadway's oldest venues, which has been dark for most of the past year. Shubert interests are complicated by real estate issues, such as the transfer of air rights, which affect investment decisions.
One key issue facing theatre owners is the property's use covenant, whereby a theatre owner can sell/transfer a theatre's air rights, providing that theatre continues to be run as a theatrical venue. Violating the use covenant could affect a theatre owner's favorable and hard won positions with the City of New York.
The towering Bertelsmann building, facing Broadway at the corner of West 45th Street was built using the air rights from the Lyceum Theatre next door at 140 West 45th. Today, Bertelsmann rents the Lyceum from the Shubert Organization for a reported $600,000 per year and the plan is for the media giant to buy the venue outright for as much as $13 million. The team of Singer, Viertel and Frankel have amassed as much as half the $20 million they require to gain control of the Lyceum and produce their show. The sale of the Lyceum would reduce the Shubert profile from 16 to 15 theatres, and Schoenfeld has stated that the proposed use of the Lyceum for the "Spirit of Broadway" goes against the use covenant.
Schoenfeld, as well as the producers in question, were not available for comment as press time.
While 12 million people saw Broadway shows last year and theatrical ticket grosses climbed to just over $588 million, only a fraction of the 30 million people flocking through Times Square annually are believed to actually buy a ticket to a Broadway show.
-- by Murdoch McBride