Getting on Broadway is an achievement, whether or not you get nominated for its highest honor, an American Theatre Wing Tony. Being there is a milestone in itself. Take it from Gerald R. Schoenfeld, Chairman of the League of American Theatres and Producers—who should know, as he is also the co-producer of this year’s 61st Annual Tony Awards (presented on June 10th at Radio City).
“Broadway is the apex of the entertainment industry,” Schoenfeld said in an exclusive interview with Timessquare.com following the Tony nominations Tuesday. Schoenfeld is chairman of the powerful Shubert Organization which owns and operates 16 Broadway playhouses,
At the same time, Schoenfeld lamented that the number of new musicals opening on Broadway has been “repressed by the lack of big Broadway ‘musical theaters’”—larger playhouses better suited to accommodate musicals than dramas or comedies. Yet the costs of building a new musical theater are prohibitive, he said, without subsidy of some kind.
“Nobody can afford to build a new musical theater without special inducement—and I’m not talking about funding from government. If we can build ballparks we can build theaters! Without some kind of government participation in some way it’s just not going to come about. There are ways to afford new theaters without any form of monetary support.”
Absent the kinds of direct monetary subsidies of theater which Great Britain has which would be near impossible in the United States, Schoenfeld says government officials can—and should—work more aggressively to help theater owners get better deals on air rights, zoning and tax issues to help offset skyrocketing theater maintenance and muscial and drama production costs. The Shubert Organization, like the other two major Broadway theater owners, play major roles as producers of shows as well as theater owners.
Producing musicals on Broadway, he said, is “getting more expensive all the time and, after all, we are constrained by the four walls of the theater and the number of seats—so you can try and fill those seats with discount tickets, regular priced tickets, premium priced tickets—and at the same time, every theater owner is obligated to maintain and restore the theaters. The unions have been cooperative but on the other hand, we’re dealing with antiquated theaters, antiquated work rules and high rising costs.”
Nevertheless, Schoenfeld is a theater executive of tremendous optimism, whose Shubert Organization has helped preserve some of New York’s most treasured architectural gems, its Broadway playhouses. But he said he was “not optimistic” Broadway would see the addition of another one of these gems anytime in the foreseeable future. -
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First published on TimesSquare.com on 17 May, 2007.