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Beleaguered Broadway fights back

Boosting sales, lifting spirits

Elaine Stritch (far left), Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick were three of the Broadway stars participating in a marketing spot to help bring people back to the Great White Way  

By Laurin Sydney
Showbiz Today Reports

NEW YORK (CNN) -- When the curtain came up on one of Mayor Giuliani's first press conferences following the September 11 tragedy, he pleaded with New Yorkers to return to business as usual.

"Go to a Mets or Yankees game, see a play," he said. "Spend some money."

But Broadway was anything but business as usual in the days that followed the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. When the lights went back on along the Great White Way, two days after the planes crashed into one of New York's most recognizable landmarks, it revealed a beleaguered Broadway.

Alan Alda, star of the upcoming play "QED," explained that this affected more than just the Broadway community.

"Restaurants are dependent on Broadway shows. Hotels are dependent on Broadway shows. Taxis are dependent on Broadway shows. ... The whole economy of New York is tied up in the people out here," he said.

'We all have to try'

But now there are less of those working Broadway people. Five of the 24 houses that sit on Broadway are now dark, and seven additional musicals are at the brink of cancellation. Show sales were initially down 80 percent when the theaters reopened.

Each week, however, the dimmed lights are beginning to shine a little brighter. The following week showed an improvement, and this past week, sales were estimated to be 30 percent below pre-attack level.

Valerie Harper, currently starring in "The Allergist's Wife," was so choked up last week that she was brought to tears when talking about why the show must go on.

"The truth is we must carry on," she said. "That adage, 'the show must go on,' (is) in every single life: those moms with three children whose husbands died at their computer, or who died running up with a fireman's axe in their hand or wherever, they are gonna to go on, so the show does go on. Each of us has a show and it's our life."

"The Producers" star Nathan Lane took it a step further.

"We all have to try or they will win. They are robbing us of our lives and they've already taken too much," he said.

'Fabulous invalid' finds its footing

To ensure that the show does go on, Broadway is now fighting back in a variety of ways. Unions are now allowing the cast and crew of seven shows to accept 25 percent pay cuts, and an additional 25 percent of the salary for the cast of "Kiss Me Kate" will go towards purchasing and donating tickets to fill their house. The producer of "Kiss Me Kate" even went so far as to rip up their closing notice in front of a live audience in the week that followed the tragedy.

One of the show's stars, Janine Lamanna, told CNN one of the reasons why. "It sends a message that we are not going to be defeated that easily," she said. "You know, you can knock down buildings but people will go on and art forms will go on, and the human spirit will thrive."

Ian McKellen, whose new show "Dance of Death" opens October 11, is unconcerned by the ups and downs of ticket sales.

"What's encouraging is that we had a huge advance in bookings and that stayed up even through the disaster," he said. "Tuesday bookings stopped altogether, but by the end of the week we picked up and we are now back where we were before."

Jed Bernstein, the President of the League of American Theater and Producers, feels that the prognosis looks good for the Broadway's current woes.

"Broadway's always been called the fabulous invalid. Two weeks ago we were in intensive care, last week we were still pushing fluid, this week we may even go for a walk down the hall. We'll find out in a couple of days," he said.

To help get Broadway back on its feet, the entire community has gotten together to record a commercial aimed at bringing tourism back to the Big Apple and theatergoers back to the live stage.

Over 100 of Broadway's best talent gathered in Times Square on September 28 to sing a rousing rendition of "New York, New York." These spots will air nationwide in an attempt to beef up Broadway box office and lighten America's spirit.

Susan Stroman, the woman behind such Broadway hits as "The Producers," "The Music Man," "Contact" and the new dramatic musical, "Thou Shalt Not," defiantly expressed Broadway's tone.

"There's always been a Broadway, and there will always be a Broadway," she said at a recent rehearsal for her new show. "There was a Broadway in World War II, and there will definitely be a Broadway now, and it will rise out of the ashes again."


• The League of American Theaters and Producers

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