The New World Stages complex has become a favorite venue for Broadway shows looking to transfer for a commercial Off Broadway run, such as Avenue Q, Rent, and Million Dollar Quartet.
Once a Loews Cineplex, New World Stages is now a commercial Off-Broadway venue located at 340 West 50th Street at Worldwide Plaza. The large, sleek complex has five theaters, ranging in size from 199-seat to 499-seat performing spaces, as well as two bars, an art gallery, and a public lounge. Unlike many Off-Broadway theaters that routinely go empty or house one unsuccessful short-lived show after another, New World Stages has remained quite popular since its 2004 opening and has even hosted a few fairly long-running productions like Altar Boyz.
Favorite Venue for Broadway To Off-Broadway Transfers
In 2009, Avenue Q began an unusual new trend of Broadway shows transferring to Off-Broadway - and, more specifically, to New World Stages. Only a handful of productions are known to have ever "downsized" from Broadway to Off-Broadway, and few of note. Yet, after Avenue Q moved to New World Stages, several others soon followed. The 39 Steps made the move but didn't last very long, and then Rent announced it would come to Off-Broadway (though in this case it was nearly three years after its Broadway closing). Most recently, Million Dollar Quartet made the move, in a rather dramatic fashion, announcing it would close its Broadway production in a few days, with a plan to re-open Off-Broadway the following month.
Moving Off-Broadway Cuts Costs
The reason for the trend is that producers have discovered that they can continue running their show while reducing the weekly costs considerably by going Off-Broadway. Actor salaries and advertising costs are among the areas where producers save when they switch to Off-Broadway, and of course they don't have to worry about selling as many seats for a smaller theater. This is a very effective solution for shows that aren't doing well enough anymore to fill a Broadway theater, but still have enough popularity to merit a continued run. Since some of these shows, like Avenue Q and Rent, actually began life in Off-Broadway venues before transferring to successful Broadway runs, they already have fairly simple set requirements and don't need to worry about reducing the scale of the production to fit their shows into smaller venues like New World Stages.
It is quite possible that New World Stages' very existence is what has made this clever money-saving strategy possible, since its 50th Street location between 8th and 9th is so very close the heart of the theater district. “We just think it’s important that we stay in New York, and we stay in the neighborhood,” said Avenue Q producer Kevin McCollum in a New York Times interview when asked about the show's transfer.
Audiences Like To Stay Within the Theater District
Certainly nobody would ever mistake the cavernous, modern-looking New World Stages complex for an historic Broadway theater, but the fact that it is showcasing Broadway-proven, Tony Award winning shows like Avenue Q and Rent gives it a sense of legitimacy to the average tourist. The fact that it is so conveniently close to the theater district (a mere block away, on the same street, as Wicked) is a huge help, especially for tourists who are buying last-minute tickets at the TKTS booth and don't want to have to trek down to Union Square or Greenwich Village, where some of the other Off-Broadway venues are.
But it is not just the proximity to Times Square that makes New World Stages an attractive prospect. With one box office and staff serving the venue and the inhabitants of its five stages, presumably theater rental costs are lower than at a typical one-stage theater. Even more important, though, is the fact that New World has embraced the practice of "piggybacking," which is when two (or even three) shows share a single stage. By sharing a stage, lighting and sound packages, and even staff or crew members, costs can be slashed even further.
Usually when piggybacking occurs, one of the shows is more dominant in terms of popularity and performance schedule, with the second show being a lesser-known or special interest show (e.g. a children's show). The first show might have, say, six performances a week, whereas the second may only do two or three performances.
More Than An Off-Broadway Theater
New World Stages not only provides a home for productions of plays and musicals, but it also provides a space for one-off events like benefit concerts, readings, presentations, entertainment industry functions, and other special events. With all of this activity, plus the fact that so many Broadway shows have been moving onto its stages, New World Stages is starting to break down the barriers between what people think of as Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway theater.