I’m a big fan of Laura Linney, one of the best actresses of her generation, whose work I’ve admired in TV shows and movies like “Ozark,” “Love Actually,” “The Truman Show,” and many more. So, I got excited when I read she would be back on Broadway this spring starring opposite Jessica Hecht in “Summer, 1976” by David Auburn, who wrote another play I thoroughly enjoyed, the Pulitzer Prize winning “Proof.”
I have no idea what the new show’s about, but I wanted to witness those two powerhouse women on stage together. When we go to New York, we like to try to catch two or three shows, so I looked for others we might see on the same trip.
I discovered that a show I’d heard a lot of buzz about in its Chicago premiere last year was finally getting to Broadway. It’s called “Good Night, Oscar,” starring Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”) as Oscar Levant, who at one point was the highest-paid concert pianist in the US, but became even better known later for his appearance on quiz shows and “The Tonight Show” with Jack Paar in the early 1960s. Levant was brilliant and funny, but tortured by mental health issues he openly discussed on TV at a time when the subject was still taboo. I’ve seen clips of him that amused the hell out of me, so I made a note to get tickets for that, too.
With two shows we wanted to see, I set about looking for tickets yesterday. I was shocked to find that decent seats for each play would cost around $350.
Not for two seats. Individually.
I’d never seen prices that high for straight plays that haven’t even opened. These are not musicals, which are always more expensive. Just for comparison, I took a gander at what we’d have to pay to see the new revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford.
I saw the original Broadway production with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou in 1980. It deserved all the accolades it got, including both the Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Musical. I don’t remember how much those tickets cost, but they were a fraction of the asking price for this iteration, which is also $350. And that’s not even in the orchestra. That’s to sit upstairs in the mezzanine!
Don’t bother emailing to tell me about the TKTS booth in Times Square, which sells half-price same-day Broadway tickets. I have stood in that line many times over the years, and it can be a good bargain — if you want to sit in the second balcony, where the stage seems to be in a different zip code and there’s almost no leg room. That’s a problem for me at 6’4″ tall. Some of those theaters are so old that it would be a problem for anyone eight inches shorter. Besides, while the booth has decent deals for shows that have been around for years (e.g. “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” “Chicago”), it rarely has seats for newer productions.
I have long loved the experience of giving myself up to the world created by an ingenious playwright whose words (and songs) are performed live right in front of us by a talented cast. But the inflation in ticket prices has gotten out of control. We are just not going to spend more to see a show on the Great White Way than it costs us to fly roundtrip from St. Louis.
Broadway has battled an elitist image for years, and it doesn’t help when ticket prices are so jacked up only the one-percenters can afford to attend. In fact, it’s a goddamned shame.