NEW YORK — SEEING the hits of the Great White Way lampooned, skewered, and satirized have kept audiences howling with laughter at the popular New York revue, "Forbidden Broadway," for a decade. And this season, from "Man of La Mancha" to "Crazy For You," the talented cast has more than enough material to choose from. With opening day receipts of $396,709 at "Guys and Dolls" setting an all-time record, Broadway is booming and the New York theater scene hasn't witnessed such activity in years.
George Wachtel, research director for the League of American Theatres and Producers, says, "We expect to realize $290 million in ticket sales this season which will also be an all-time record. The first half of the season was not very strong, but in the last few months, 21 shows opened, the most compact number in 10 years."
In April 1981 the number of tickets sold totaled 717,303. Ten years later, the April total was 813,872. Measured another way, publisher Arthur Birsh's Playbill Magazine, distributed to all theaters with information about each house's play and cast, contrasted its May 1982 publication figure of 1,120,000 to 1,347,000 for May of this year.
More shows mean more jobs for actors, stagehands, and everyone else connected with the theater. According to Helaine Feldman of Actors Equity, the union, the increase is significant. "In April of last year, there were five dramatic plays and 12 musicals running on Broadway, and this April the numbers jumped to nine plays and 16 musicals." She points out that "last year there were 48 stage managers and 435 principal and chorus performers working, and now there are 71 stage managers and 637 performers empl oyed."
Why the rise in interest? In Mr. Wachtel's view, "there was a turndown in the early '80s, with skyrocketing costs and double-digit inflation which meant that fewer new shows were being produced." He also says that musicals like "Crazy for You," "Jelly's Last Jam," and "Guys and Dolls" returned to the choreography that audiences prefer.
THE last decade also witnessed two other developments: the invasion of British megamusicals like "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera," and the passing of Broadway creative legends such as directors Gower Champion, Bob Fosse, and Michael Bennett.
"There's a new generation starting to make their mark now, like Tommy Tune, Susan Stroman, and George C. Wolfe, who along with a new generation of managers, are coming into their own," says Wachtel.
And theater for New York City means more than entertainment. It means big business. The Office of the Mayor reports that last year 15,811 people were directly employed in theater, and the number leaps to 28,445 when related services, such as ushers and ticket sellers are added in. Spending directly generated by theatergoers put $1.29 billion into circulation, and when subsidiary outlays, such as restaurant meals, parking, and taxis are added in, New York reaps $3.3 billion. The city's tax coffers benefit
by nearly $78 million.
Not everyone assesses the current situation as a positive trend. Producer James Freydberg, whose credits include "Burn This," "I Hate Hamlet," and "The Road to Mecca," cautions that "many productions came in late in the season. Some producers copped their risk by producing at the end of the season, hoping to get a push from the awards."
Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards are both given in May. "It's unhealthy for the business in the long run, because there's only one winner. Some of the special investors who have just come into the business may not come back when shows begin to close in the summer," says Mr. Freydberg.
But at least two more shows are scheduled to open in June, a production of "Anna Karenina," and a revival of Arthur Miller's "The Price," starring Eli Wallach, whose distinguished stage career includes his Tony-winning performance in the original production of Tennessee Williams's "The Rose Tattoo."
Mr. Wallach says, "The day of the British musical is over. There's some real knockout American work running now. You know, they always refer to Broadway as the Fabulous Invalid. I think the invalid has just gotten out of bed."