• Claire Wu

How Did Broadway Musicals Become So Expensive?

"Hamilton” is just a week away from closing, yet there are still crowds and crowds of people flocking in to Boston Opera House every night to watch the show. James Hou, a prospective audience member said that he wouldn’t go to musicals on a regular basis, but he came to watch the show “because it’s ‘Hamilton.’”  

“The tickets were very expensive,” said Hou, “I would watch musicals more often if the ticket prices were lower.”

Another prospective audience member, Cassidy Barrett, said she only paid $100 for a really good seat. Barrett said she knows people pay ridiculous prices but she would never do so.

“I know what I have to do,” said Barrett. “You got to get [the tickets] early, you don't ever want to buy it from a different ticket [broker].”

Hamilton” is a musical about Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers that’s been told through the language and rhythms of hip-hop and R&B. Hamilton has been a phenomenon ever since its off-Broadway run at the Public Theatre in February 2015. Though the show currently runs in several locations in the country, not everyone gets to sit inside the theater and watch the show. And this is not a rare phenomenon; rather this phenomenon has been around for quite some time now.

People flocking in to the theater on Hamilton's last night in Boston.

The average ticket price of a Broadway musical has constantly been increasing, and it was only six years ago when the ticket price passed the $100 mark for the first time. The average price of a ticket during the 2017-18 season was $125.70, which was 59 percent higher than the average cost of a ticket 10 years ago, according to the latest figuresfrom The Broadway League.

Hamilton, at the same time, currently has an average ticket priceof $287.66, which is 97 percent higher than the average cost of a ticket when the show first opened, according to the figures from The Broadway World.

While many are saying Broadway tickets are too expensive, there are a number of reasons that contributes to the current price range of Broadway tickets.Christopher Caggiano, an associate professor of theater of Boston Conservatory, said that Broadway tickets have been rising since the 1960s, and it hasn’t slow down since then. He explained that there were a variety of reasons, but one of the main reasons was because the cost of putting on a show has risen astronomically.

Caggiano explained that Broadway tickets are a lot more expensive than movie tickets because there’s a lot of people contributing to one show, and they’re all in unions.  With the philosophy of putting more money into the hands of fewer people and put less money into the hands of lots of people, these jobs are generally very well-paid and are low in demand.

“Broadway is very expensive,” said Caggiano, “because there’s a lot of people that need to get paid, and there’s a very high unemployment rate in theatre, so the idea is that they should make as much money as they could when they do have the jobs.”

Dynamic pricing is also a factor that contributes to the upward pressure on prices. Dynamic pricing is the latest trend of Broadway ticket pricing, by which the ticket price changes depending on demand and when a person is going to see the show. As producers discover there are certain people that will spend almost anything to see the show, they started to charge for premium tickets.

Other than the pressure of making more money, some other reasons that contributes to the raising ticket price include the pressure of technology.

Bill Marx, the editor-in-chief of The Arts Fuse, a Boston-area digital arts publication, explained that there are some services that allow people to subscribe and watch Broadway shows on television screens. More people may prefer this way because it’s convenient and inexpensive.

“It’s the same reason why baseball seats are becoming more expensive,” said Marx. “They can charge more to people who want to pay for the service for actually being at the ballpark, in the same way that the Broadway producers can now charge more for those people who actually have the money to spend to be able to sit in the seats.”

Marx said that there was a time when Broadway tickets were at least inexpensive enough so the young people, marginal people, and people who are not wealthy could conceivably get in to see a Broadway show. However, given what’s going on economically and how the ticket prices are becoming, the younger generations will primarily be seeing theatres on TV screens eventually.

“As a critic, [the issue of the constant rise in ticket prices] is beyond problematic,” said Marx. “I think it’s tragic.”

Marx said that he thinks that in the long run, this phenomenon is not going to do good for the theater. Live theater {etc.} should be more accessible so more people can see its value.

Though ticket prices may eventually affect the theatre, some had a different perspective in terms of this phenomenon.

Broadway performer Minami Yusui, who currently stars in “My Fair Lady,” said the increase in ticket prices did brought some good influences to the theatre world.   Yusui said because there are more movie-based musicals, as well as Hollywood stars in these shows, people who usually are not interested in theatre would now come to the shows. Additionally, there are more new shows waiting for the theatres to open up.

Caggiano also shared a similar view with Yusui.  

“Broadway seems to be much more healthy economically than it used to be,” said Caggiano. “That’s not just because the tickets are getting more expensive but because more and more people are attending shows.”

Caggiano said it used to be New Yorkers that kept the show running, but now it’s tourists because “it’s part of the experience.”

Although watching Broadway shows seemed to become a privilege for people who can afford it, the vibrant environment of Broadway has nevertheless created some highs for prospective audiences from in and out of the country.

“[There’s no doubt] that theatres are always going to be more expensive than any other art form,” said Caggiano, “and it doesn’t look like it’s going get less any time soon, but there’s awful lot of shows that are successful right now.”

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