Broadway doesn’t need a casino. It needs better art

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How does the old saying go? The chestnut from The Sun Also Rises — that bankruptcy happens gradually and then suddenly? Hemingway was right. If you need proof of concept, just look to Broadway.

Nearly a
dozen shows
of varying prominence are closing this month, including ones based on the movies Beetlejuice and Almost Famous. A Pulitzer Prize and two Tony awards (one for best musical) couldn’t save critical darling A Strange Loop.

Prominent names, such as Sutton Foster and Hugh Jackman in The Music Man or Sara Bareilles in Into the Woods, couldn’t keep fan favorites afloat. Not even a 35-year track record could keep the doors open at Phantom of the Opera — the longest-running show in Broadway history.

So far, 15 marquees will darken by the end of February.
Industry professionals
are blaming an unholy trio: “costs, COVID, and crime.”

The Coalition for a Better Times Square published a
statement
earlier this month, signed by the Actors Equity Association and the American Federation of Musicians, that pushes a solution to stop the bleeding: support a bid for a casino to open in the theater district.

The statement reads in part:

“With a record number of shows unexpectedly closing this season, we are at a critical moment in defining the future of Broadway and the Times Square area. Fortunately, there is an opportunity to bring a new influx of visitors to the theater district and ensure that Times Square remains the greatest entertainment destination for New York City: Caesars Palace Times Square. The current proposal by SL Green, Caesars Entertainment, and Roc Nation, and supported by this coalition, would generate an estimated 412,000 new Broadway ticket sales annually and bring more than $65 million in new revenue for the Broadway industry.” 

As I considered the statement, Hemingway floated to mind. Is the only way to save Broadway from financial ruin really to give into moral bankruptcy all at once? I say no, and so does Mike Campbell from The Sun Also Rises. These are not the sort of friends — or “creditors” — that a healthy, independent industry entertains.

My proposed solution is simpler and far more radical.

Of the dozen shows closing this month, only two consist of original source material. The other 10 are either revivals or have been running for more than 10 years.

Three additional high-profile projects that closed in December —
KPOP

1776
, and 
Ain’t No Mo
 
— were embroiled in unseemly controversies that drove audiences away from the box office. While cast members blamed the closures on
racism
, others point to woke casting choices, hyper-partisanship, and sub-par reviews.

Broadway doesn’t need a casino to save it from bankruptcy. All it needs is better art.


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Grace Bydalek is a writer, performer, and administrator based in New York City. She works as a theater critic for the New York Sun and leads Young Voices’ Dissident Project.





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