Just six months ago, doomsayers were predicting that the economic slump would kill Broadway. But recent stories suggest it’s proved surprisingly resilient. According to last week’s box office tallies, 12 Broadway shows filled 90 percent or more of their seats. What’s more, it isn’t just stalwarts like Wicked and Jersey Boys playing to nearly sold-out houses. Seven of those hit shows were new this season, and two of them — the star-studded comedy God of Carnage (pictured at left) and the Nathan Lane-topped Beckett revival Waiting for Godot — were non-musicals.
In fact, one of the big surprises of this Broadway season is the sheer number of non-musical plays on the boards, and how many of them are finding a decent audience. (Even terrific but relatively celeb-free shows like Mary Stuart, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and The Norman Conquests are holding up well.) The truest sign of recessionary thinking on Broadway seems to be coming not from ticket buyers but producers, who seem to be favoring less costly productions with smaller casts. Carnage has just four actors; Godot has five. Even usually pricey musicals are more modest in scope: Next to Normal, which boasts 11 Tony nominations and now plays at 86 percent capacity, has just six actors and a six-person band — a far cry from last season’s ambitious South Pacific revival with its 40-member cast and 30-person orchestra.
Does anyone feel shortchanged by paying full price for smaller-scale productions? I suspect the answer is no, so long as the show itself delivers. That’s one of the great joys of live theater. A one-person show on a bare stage can be just as riveting as an over-the-top extravaganza with costumes, sets, and music galore. (Can someone please remind Julie Taymor of this lesson as she preps her Spider-Man musical for next season, with its reported $30 million-plus budget?) What do you think, PopWatchers? Are Broadway shows worth the splurge when dollars are tight?