There are currently 29 shows playing on Broadway; and by my reckoning, you can currently find online discount offers to at least 25 of them. (The only ones not doing ticket offers are The Lion King, Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys and A Little Night Music). And that’s not all: you can also buy advance tickets at a discount for a whole raft of shows yet to open, like A View from the Bridge (starring Scarlett Johansson in her Broadway debut and Liev Schreiber, that begins performances next Monday), Million Dollar Quartet,Sondheim on Sondheim, The Miracle Worker and Collected Stories.
Of course, you still have to pay the service charges online, but at least you’re doing it from the comfort of your laptop (or iPhone). For those hardier souls willing to brave the cold, crowds, endless queues and abrasive staffing, there’s still the tkts booth at Times Square, but it’s no longer the bargain it once was: discounts that were once offered at half price across the board now vary from show to show, with some offering reductions of between 20% and 40% instead.
But far from reducing prices, there’s a persuasive argument that the discount economy has instead pushed them up overall: producers now have to budget to sell a greater or smaller part of their ticket inventories at a discount, and in so doing have gradually pushed the base up to accommodate a greater return when that income is duly halved.
And there’s also a (not-so-hidden) catch for the customer, too, seeking to purchase discounted tickets: the offers are billed as being valid on “selected” seats and “subject to availability”; which means that they’re invariably for the side or rear seats only. The “good” seats are held back for those willing to pay full price (or more: a proportion of seats nowadays are billed as “premium” seats, sold at a higher price than the usual scale). But a sign of the new flexible pricing models that are now in operation on Broadway is literally provided nowadays by the fact that, instead of fixed printed notices advising the scale of prices available, Broadway box offices have now introduced electronic signs instead, where adjustments can presumably be made on the spot.
None of this usually matters to theatre critics, of course, who are accommodated in the best seats for free; but I sometimes revert to being a regular customer when I’m here, either because I’m too early in the run to get press seats (so, for instance, I have already bought them, at a discount, for A View from the Bridge next week), or I’m going back to something I have really enjoyed yet again.
I’ve previously written here of the difficulties I have sometimes experienced at Broadway box offices when I’ve tried to do so - back in October I tried to buy tickets for Finian’s Rainbow, then in previews at the St James, with a discount coupon, only to be told it was “sold out” and then found the tickets at the half price booth instead. And last night I tried to buy tickets to see Next to Normal at the Booth Theatre for the fourth time next week, again using a coupon, which despite the clearly-printed terms of the offer, the box office refused to honour. It was, they said, subject to their discretion.
I was going to buy three tickets at the stated offer price of $70; instead, I walked away empty-handed. That means the show is now $210 poorer; yet this is a production that last week recorded an overall attendance of just 73.7%. Admittedly the week between Christmas and New Year is always a busy week on Broadway (and most Broadway shows hike their pricing scales accordingly), but it seems absurd to turn away willing customers, and to anger them by putting out offers that you then refuse to honour.