Monday, January 04, 2010

Ragtime - A success in D.C. - Barely a Ripple in NYC

In the wake of Ragtime's premature shuttering on Broadway, Peter Marks of the Washington Post does some dissecting, (the type of which we read so much of with the closing of Neil Simon's Brighton plays.)

Here he examines the difficulties of transferring a successful regional run to the Great White Way:

When it opened in the Eisenhower Theater in April, the musical may not have proved itself to be truly seminal, but it now had a moving core and evoked in more emotionally satisfying ways a turbulent, evolving nation. Thanks to Derek McLane's ingenious set, the 28-member orchestra and the voices of a cast nearly 40 strong, it looked and sounded terrific. And Washington responded: "Ragtime" was a virtual sellout for the Kennedy Center, prompting the highly unusual step for the institution of an extension of the musical's run. All told, it ran in the Eisenhower at 92 percent capacity for 34 performances.

Still, there were sales advantages for "Ragtime" at the Kennedy Center that could not be replicated on Broadway: the institution's subscribers. They purchased 30 percent of the musical's tickets, providing a solid foundation of revenue, according to center President Michael M. Kaiser. "Plus, we have a marketing reach in a much less culturally dense city," he said. "We have an ongoing relationship to an audience. Whereas on Broadway, every time you start from zero. You have to build your single-ticket sales."

In a city with far fewer options for big-scale musicals, "Ragtime" may have had an outsize impact. When it moved to New York, it not only faced more intense competition, it also had to find a niche in a theater world that has grown more and more dependent on tourists - a negligible theatergoing category in Washington


Thomas Garvey said...

New York is no longer a theatre town; it is, instead, at tourist town, with a lot of locals who want to do theatre but not pay to see it themselves. And to get tourists to buy your tickets, you have to an "event" concept or a star. "Ragtime" had neither.

Art said...

Seems like that was the problem with the Simon debacle after all was said and done.

Marks points out the lack of a star, specifically in the role of Coalhouse Walker.