Two Broadway shows join growing list of casualties

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two more Broadway shows fell by the wayside this week but the head of an industry trade association said it was part of natural selection in a tough business rather than the result of the economic crisis.

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, said on Friday the next six weeks were a crucial time for the theater business, which typically enjoys its busiest period over the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays.

“American Buffalo,” a revival of the David Mamet play starring former child star Haley Joel Osment, Cedric the Entertainer and John Leguizamo, is due to play its final performance on Sunday, just one week after opening night.

It received mostly poor reviews and will close unless it sees a sharp rise in ticket sales, producers said on Thursday.

This week’s other casualty is “13,” a musical with an all-teenage cast and band that opened at the start of October. Its attendance has fluctuated between around 35 percent and 60 percent of capacity since late September and producers said this week it would close in January.

Recent weeks have brought down the ax on several other shows, including award-winning productions that have been running for a year or more, such as “Spring Awakening,” a rock musical about teenage angst and sexual discovery.

“Closings are a natural part of our business and the big ones that have announced have had long runs,” St. Martin said, pointing also to “Gypsy,” “Spamalot” and “Hairspray,” which are all due to end their runs next year.

“America Buffalo,” one of two Mamet plays in revival this season, suffered from poor reviews, especially in the influential New York Times, as did the musical “Tale of Two Cities,” which got the chop earlier this month.

The Broadway League says the 39 Broadway theaters contribute $5.1 billion per year to the economy of New York, on top of ticket sales, and support 44,000 jobs.

Nearly 12.3 million tickets were sold in the 12 months up to the end of May, producing $937 million in gross revenues, a figure that was hit by a stagehands strike in late 2007.

The current climate of job losses, frightening losses on Wall Street and home foreclosures could make consumers think twice about spending $100 on theater tickets and stop Broadway from breaking the $1 billion barrier this season.

“I don’t think we’ll be at $1 billion but I don’t think we’ll be $800 million either,” St. Martin told Reuters in a telephone interview, adding that the coming weeks through to just after New Year would be crucial.

“November, Thanksgiving through Christmas, is really the biggest 45 days on Broadway.”

St. Martin said she expected Broadway to feel the impact of the hard economic times but not too deeply.

“People’s entertainment, whether it’s Broadway or sports or golf, those are the last things to go,” she said. “We certainly will see an impact. We haven’t seen a dramatic impact yet. We’re all holding our breaths for the winter, which is a traditionally slow time.”

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Bill Trott