New York is the premier travel destination in the United States. One of the biggest draws in New York is Broadway, long known as “the great white way” because of the lights glittering over the theaters.
Just when New York should be recovering from the pandemic, which President Biden declared “over” in September, significant numbers of Broadway shows have shuttered or announced their closing.
Culprits include costs, COVID and crime. All have chased away free-spending tourists and Broadway customers, who are basically the same people.
Despite an average Broadway price of $113.29 per ticket, many shows struggled to break even, with high production costs and soft sales. Gross income on ticket sales declined from 33 million per week in May to 20 million in September.
When Broadway reopened last fall after an 18-month COVID shutdown, all productions, new and old, basically re-started from zero. That meant that formerly reliable warhorses were competing with new shows.
That led to a phenomenon of more shows chasing fewer tourists, who make up almost two-thirds (63%) of the Broadway audience. In 2021, the number of tourists visiting New York was 1.7 million lower than expected. In 2022, estimates are that there will be 1.3 million of these “missing tourists,” with tourism perhaps 85% of its 2019 high.
The result? Six well-known musicals have announced their closing since June, with the bigger shocker The Phantom of the Opera. The longest-running show in Broadway history, “Phantom” will go dark in February after a 35-year run. When the show finally reopened last October it struggled to regain its audience and is reportedly losing $1 million per month.
In June, closing notices were posted for Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away, the tale of the airline passengers stranded in Newfoundland on 9/11. Both opened in 2017, won acclaim, and according to the Hollywood Reporter “were largely sold out before the pandemic.” A third show, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, a former hit which opened in 2019, also announced its closing in June.
In September, The Music Man announced its shutdown on January 1, 2003. Beetlejuice the Musical will also close in January, followed by “Phantom” in February, unless a surprise outpouring of ticket buyers should somehow save the show.
COVID wreaked havoc among vulnerable Broadway casts. The Omicron surge cancelled dozens of performances, resulting in refunds and several closings. A number of headliners, like Hugh Jackman in Music Man, contracted COVID (Jackman had it twice) and had to leave performances to their understudies.
Meanwhile, many COVID-shy theater goers are still reluctant to travel to Broadway and sit in a theater with hundreds of others.
Others wen but refused to mask, like those called out by Broadway legend Patti LuPone in May. LuPone herself missed ten performances of Company with COVID. By July 1, masks were optional at most shows.
It is also quite possible that a significant increase in crime in New York is keeping thousands of tourists away. Some 66% of the Broadway audience is female, while 2.1 million of the 13.8 million Broadway ticket sold were used by children or teens (about 15%).
Crime is up in New York by more than 30% over 2021. The city’s place on the world stage ensures that potential tourists know this, even if publications like the New York Times choose not to cover it.
According to the NYPD, “Overall crime in New York City increased in July 2022, by 30.5% compared with July 2021 (11,619 v. 8,906). Six of the seven major index-crime categories saw increases.”
“For the month of July 2022, the number of overall shooting incidents increased in New York City compared with July 2021…by 13.4% (178 v. 157) …. Additionally, the number of murders citywide increased for the month by 34.3% (47 v. 35) compared to the same period last year.”
In addition to seemingly random violence in the streets, New York’s famed subways have been the scene of bizarre attacks, shootings and people being pushed onto the tracks. On the subway, it seems there’s a constant run of shocking crimes reported nationally on a daily basis.
In January, Michelle Go, 40, a consultant for Deloitte, was pushed in front of a train in the Times Square subway station. (42nd Street and Times Square is the heart of the Broadway theater district.) In April, a gunman fired 33 rounds at subway commuters, injuring several. In May, Daniel Enriquez, a Goldman Sachs worker, was randomly shot dead by a fellow passenger. In September, a 21-year old tourist was raped at the 42nd Street station.
Meanwhile, up to 14 of New York’s hotels, including several near the Theater District, have been taken over by the city government to house migrants and homeless people.
Of course, New York is hardly the only major tourist destination dealing with homelessness and crime. New Orleans recently got the unenviable title of “Murder Capital” with the nation’s highest murder rate of 41 murders per 100,000.
New Yorkers used to say, jokingly, that they missed the good old Times Square of peep shows, porn, and prostitution, before the area was literally ‘Disneyfied’ with shows like the Lion King. But making the area tourist and family-friendly paid off for New York.
Increased crime does not result in increased tourism. Until destinations like New York make a real effort to address fears about safety, the flow of vital tourist dollars will continue to shrivel.