When they offered tickets to Hugh Jackman’s staged concert at $250, I was concerned. When they raised the price to $350 I felt a spell coming on. I cast no dispersions on Mr. Jackman. I have seen him perform live (at the Tony awards) and he is a gem. I am also a believer in a free economy and can often be spotted muttering; “people will buy whatever you sell them.” Yet, there is something about the pricing of these tickets that is disturbing me beyond all reason.
I am not an economist (to such an extent, I hear only white noise when people discuss long-term investments,) but I feel in my bones, that there is something “off” about a $350 ticket to a performance of anything. I will defend Mr. Jackman’s producers’ right to charge whatever people will pay, but I have trepidation. I’m worried about what this will (continue to) lead to.
For decades, people have paid extraordinary sums to attend concerts. Even un-scalped tickets have been in the triple digits for quite some time. I’ve long suspected it is due to the rarity of seeing what you’ve been hearing. In that vein, Mr. Jackman’s ticket pricing is almost normative, however I’m willing to wager that his audience is thinking; “Broadway show” not “Concert.” Therein lies the concern. If in fact we are creating/supporting a theatre audience who will pay $350 for a concert, is this helping or hurting Broadway?
How do we support a rich creative process for producing new theatrical works of art in a world in which a producer can charge $350 for a concert on Broadway? In 1961 a ticket to see Judy Garland concert (a comparison, no doubt The Boy From Oz would appreciate) was $7.00. In 1961 the average Broadway theatre ticket was between $5.00 and $9.00. I don’t pretend that this 1:1 ratio does or should still exist. I would however, urge us to detect a trend in the amount of offerings (and pricing) of 1961 Broadway and that of 2011.
When jukebox, comic book and made-from-t.v.-or-film musicals, are bringing in millions, is there still room for new book musicals? Do they even belong on the main-stage any longer? Every couple of years we are graced with an inspiring wonderful new musical. The Light In The Piazza (2005,) Spring Awakening (2006) and Passing Strange (2008) come to mind as shocking in their originality and magic. These shows bubbled up like a tree growing in Brooklyn; defying all odds. If you are a producer how much are you willing to risk? A million dollars invested in a Hugh Jackman show or a jukebox musical cast with contest winners will guarantee a healthy return and perhaps a step onto the stage at the Tony awards. Isn’t that prospect a little more enticing than ponying up a million dollars for something which artistically makes one’s heart sing, but comes with no prospect of a $350 ticket? Where does this leave/lead us?