A Million Things Broadway Hasn't Done

Increasing accessibility of musicals could attract younger audiences

 By Bailey Mount Editor-in-Chief

 

Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus/Hamilton Broadway

Broadway makes its money through brand recognition, not its product. And with millennials being called “promiscuous in their brand loyalty,” it might be time to set a different stage.

It’s a bold claim, but it becomes more believable when you think of the industry’s lucrative business. As of 2017, the New York Times reported that the average price of a Broadway show ticket was $109. Despite this, weekly attendance numbers went as high as 300,000 that year, according to “The Broadway League” website.

People still fork over hundreds of dollars to see a production that’s probably playing at their local or regional theater, but why?

Because the name carries a certain prestige. People attend not necessarily for the show itself, but for the opportunity to say that they have “been to a Broadway show.” This also tends to give the artform a bad reputation. It’s seen as pretentious, stuffy and exclusionary to younger, less financially secure audiences.

Then “Hamilton” happened.

Acclaimed by critics and widely praised by fans, the 2015 rap-style musical revived a passion for the artform that had been slowly declining. It connected with millennials. Suddenly, musicals and Broadway were cool again.

The problem of ticket prices didn’t go away, however. During its original run with Lin- Manuel Miranda in the titular role, “Hamilton” tickets started as high as $849.

Here’s the thing. We millennials, generally speaking, tend to love art and be supportive of creative endeavors. According to a 2017 Eventbrite study on millennials and the arts, 1 in 5 of us spent upwards of $500 on performing and visual art events in the past year - but this is the combined cost of several different events, not a single Broadway ticket. We want to be supportive of as many things that we enjoy as possible without breaking our bank account.

The solution is making Broadway more accessible to its new target audience. Cheaper tickets don’t seem to be an option any time soon and most musical fans won’t fly all the way to New York to see a production. So, start filming the musicals and making them available for purchase. The amount bought could easily make up for the seats lost.

This isn’t done now because it’s thought to diminish the integrity of theater. The argument is that it cheapens the medium and defeats the purpose of a live performance.

Yes, there’s always been a certain warmth to theatrical performances that can’t be captured in film or through music. For devoted fans of a musical, however, the connection can still be found if the performance isn’t live. I feel as much intensity listening to the “RENT” soundtrack as I do when I see bootlegs of the original Broadway performance on YouTube, bootlegs I wouldn’t have to watch if I had a high-quality, non-movie musical version that I would actually pay for.

It can be done. In a way, it already is. The market for Broadway adaptations is currently booming. Multiple live studio-recorded productions of classics like “Hairspray” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and upcoming ones like “RENT” attract audience attention. They may lack the quality of a Broadway show, yes, but their existence illustrates a demand that Broadway could capitalize on.

As a musical - but not a Broadway - fan I support the industry and its content creators. In the end, however, I recognize that a musical isn’t much good if there’s no one who can afford to watch it.