Soon In-Flight Box Office will be offering an unusual – and unnecessary? – service for New York-bound travelers. People who didn’t buy their Broadway tickets in advance, and don’t want to go looking for tickets on the ground, will be able to purchase Broadway tickets right there on the airplane from flight attendants equipped with special handheld devices for processing Broadway ticket orders. The “pilot” run for this service will likely be tested on American Airlines, and the only Broadway shows that will be offered are Chicago, Mamma Mia, Spamalot, and The Phantom of the Opera. Presumably a wider variety of Broadway tickets will be offered on more airlines if there is sufficient interest.
New York has just joined numerous other states in officially removing price caps for ticket brokers (or scalpers, as they are not-so-affectionately known). Previously, brokers were only allowed to re-sell Broadway tickets for 20% above the face value — now, they can jack up the price as high as they please.
The chief argument for removing the pricing rules for re-sellers is simply a matter of practicality, as it is almost impossible to enforce such restrictions in the internet age (ticket brokers are doing booming business online). Also, Broadway producers (as well as the concert and sporting event organizations who are equally affected by scalping laws) have stopped opposing ticket brokers as strenuously as they once did. A few years ago, Broadway producers decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, might as well join ‘em, and so began the practice of selling their own hideously overpriced “premium” seats. It’s gotten to the point where quite a large number of the best seats in the theater are being designated as “premium,” effectively turning Broadway producers into scalpers in their own right. In fact, there is already speculation that ticket brokers and Broadway shows may find ways to join forces now.
So where does this leave the consumer? People in favor of letting ticket brokers off the leash argue that prices will go down once the free market is allowed to rule because suddenly the marketplace will be flooded with tickets. But where would this flood of extra tickets be coming from? Broadway tickets are already extremely expensive and people don’t buy them lightly — most Broadway ticket buyers fully intend to use them. As if good seats weren’t hard enough to get already, now average consumers are going to be in fierce competition with enterprising brokers who want to buy up the tickets at face value from the Broadway box office, just so they can re-sell them at exorbitant prices.
As a Broadway fan, it’s hard not to feel bitter about all this. There is nothing stopping Broadway producers and ticket brokers from charging as much as they want, making the theater seem like a luxury only affordable for the rich and for tourists who can manage a one-time splurge. About the only restriction that has been kept in place is the one that actually stands to benefit ticket buyers: Re-sellers still have to maintain a healthy distance when selling right at the venue (500 feet for Broadway theaters), so would-be theatergoers hoping to snatch somebody’s extra unused ticket at the last minute have to skulk around the shadows to find one.
How this will all pan out remains to be seen. The re-selling caps weren’t doing much to reign in ticket brokers anyway, and maybe this new development will somehow shed light on the larger problem of Broadway tickets being overpriced in the first place. In the meantime, Broadway ticket buyers need to be savvy. If they want to see a hot show, they should get their tickets as soon as possible, before the brokers have scooped them up. And for goodness sake, avoid buying tickets from brokers at all. If you’re truly desperate to see a sell-out show like Jersey Boys (which the scalpers are already re-selling for hundreds of dollars per ticket and will only get more pricey), consider trying the cancellation line at the theater box office right before the show.
Another thing to consider: Check out the Broadway shows that aren’t selling out. It’s easy to be dazzled by the big-name shows that get all the publicity, but those aren’t necessarily the best. There are many wonderful Broadway musicals and plays that are having trouble filling seats, and as a result you can get discount tickets to see them — and you don’t have to go anywhere near a scalper to do that!
Sadly, the excellent Broadway revival of R.C. Sherriff’s WWI drama Journey’s End has just announced it will be closing on June 10. The acclaimed production, starring Hugh Dancy and Boyd Gaines, received critical accolades and several Tony nominations, but it just couldn’t find an audience.
The 2007 Tony nominations came out today, and it’s no surprise that the shows receiving top recognition were the epic Tom Stoppard play The Coast of Utopia and the hot new musical Spring Awakening, which have a total of 10 and 11 nominations, respectively. The real shock was what — and who — didn’t manage to make the cut this year. Legally Blonde failed to land a Best Musical nom (despite the fact that it got nominations for Book and Score), and both The Pirate Queen and the Les Miserables revival were completely shut out. Broadway darling Kristin Chenoweth did not snag an acting nom for her performance in The Apple Tree, and Oscar winner Kevin Spacey’s turn in A Moon for the Misbegotten was snubbed. Among those triumphant were Christopher Plummer (Inherit the Wind), Liev Schreiber (Talk Radio), Vanessa Redgrave (The Year of Magical Thinking), Angela Lansbury (Deuce), Audra McDonald (110 in the Shade), and David Hyde Pierce (Curtains). To see these heavy hitters, and many others, duking it out for the big prizes, tune into the Tony Awards on CBS on June 10.