Despite closings, N.Y. theater bounces back

Broadway and off-Broadway theaters are settling back into business as usual - and business as unusual - after struggling through one of the biggest box-office drops in history because of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11. Daily Variety reported Tuesday that after Broadway resumed its eight-performance schedule last week, it earned $4.3 million, up from the previous week's $3.6 million - a 118 percent increase.

Five Broadway shows, including "The Rocky Horror Show" and "A Thousand Clowns," closed Sep. 23. But the cast and crew of the musical "Kiss Me, Kate," which earlier announced that it was closing the same day, agreed to an unprecedented 50 percent pay cut that will keep the show going through December. Twenty-five percent will go to Broadway Cares, a nonprofit theater charity, to purchase tickets for those working on New York disaster relief.

"Kiss Me, Kate" producer Roger Berlind was overcome with emotion at last Sunday's matinee when he stood on stage and tore up the show's closing notice because of what he called "an extraordinary outpouring of generosity and goodwill of every member of the 'Kiss Me, Kate' family."

It was just one of the most visible of a great many efforts the New York theater community is making to survive the tragedy.

"Whenever we're shown a new way of doing things, even from necessity, we can only learn from it," says Jordan Roth, one of the producers of "The Rocky Horror Show." "The lines of communication and generosity have been opened up between management and the many unions as never before."

Mr. Roth says these new lines of communication "will be tested" soon as he and his co-producers try to reduce costs so that "The Rocky Horror Show" can resume performances for 10 weeks starting Halloween week.

Other instances of the theater community pulling together include:

• Five dollars of the price of every Broadway ticket purchased by the end of September will be donated to the Mayor's Twin Towers Fund.

• Today, cast members in costume from every show currently running on Broadway and other celebrities will sing "New York, New York" in Times Square. A promotional music video made from the performance will be shown on TV and in movie theaters.

• "The Syringa Tree," a hit off-Broadway play that closed Sept. 23, is now scheduled to resume performances Oct. 23.

• Andrew Lloyd Webber's new Broadway-bound musical "By Jeeves,'' which had announced it was canceling plans to open this fall because two investors had pulled out, will now open as scheduled Oct. 28. Mr. Lloyd Webber and four other British investors have agreed to invest an additional $800,000 in the show.

Industry insiders hope that these and other actions may slow or even stop the spate of show closings. But producers will not be able to recoup the losses of the last 17 days. Last week alone, it's estimated that Broadway ticket sales dropped by as much as $5 million. Although Broadway theaters themselves were not damaged, crowds stayed away. Broadway's long-running hit musical, "Rent," played to an average of 300 people a night the first week after the disaster in a theater that seats 1,200 people.

Dozens of off-Broadway shows, especially those playing south of 14th Street, near the collapsed World Trade Center, canceled performances or closed.

"I can understand the conditions under which 'The Rocky Horror Show' closed," says star Daphne Rubin-Vega, who played "Mimi" in the original Broadway cast of "Rent." "But things are far worse for off-Broadway, especially for theaters in downtown Manhattan."

At the same time, Broadway theater owners and producers have put extra safety measures into place to reassure the public.

"The Broadway theaters are swept electronically every day for security reasons, and no bags are checked anymore," said Stewart Lane, the owner of Broadway's Palace Theater, where Disney's production of "Aida" is playing. Several shows set to open this fall are sticking to their performance dates. These include Neil Simon's new "Forty-five Seconds from Broadway," and "Hedda Gabbler," starring Kate Burton.

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