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Tony Awards put Broadway's booming box office on display

The Tony Awards showed theater's freshness and creativity, but rampant Hollywood stars and high ticket prices are making Broadway less accessible to the masses, say critics.

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Two examples are Nina Arianda, winning best leading actress over better-known names such as Linda Lavin and Stockard Channing, and James Corden, who beat out the likes of Mr. Hoffman and John Lithgow.

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“It was very remarkable that this unknown British actor won over these other big names. I’m excited about what that means for the health of the industry and what signal that sends to others on the way up,” says David Cregan, chair of Villanova University’s Department of Theatre.

But the thirst for top-rate productions – and  – means more tickets are becoming more unafforable.

The flip side is the high cost, driving Broadway to become an elite luxury, rather than an artistic delight for the masses.

“Unfortunately for would-be theater enthusiasts, while the big names are generating more publicity for plays and musicals, they are simultaneously limiting the availability for the general public to go see a live performance,” says Ms. Rodgers of Meredith College.

Average paid admission has increased by one-fifth to $93 since before the recession, according to new statistics from the Broadway League – while non-musical ticket prices grew by about 3 percent. On a recent visit to New York, Rodgers says her family of four could only afford to see one play.

“Big names require big price tags and tickets easily soar into the triple digits now. Spending a night in the city for a family of four can easily exceed $1,000 just to go to dinner and a performance,” Rodgers says.

Moreover, because there are a lot of very strong revivals on Broadway right now – such as “Death of a Salesman” and “Porgy and Bess” – it is harder for an American play to get to the national stage. But this is good news to some.

“Consequently, the best American drama is happening in the regions, and if it is lucky, is making it to Broadway,” says Anthony Haigh, director of Centre at the Edinburgh Festival 2012 and professor of theater at Centre College in Danville, Ky. “Or even more trustworthy, from a producer's point of view, is a success in London. London – the new Off-off-off-Broadway!”

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