“When I was a kid in the Bronx, I went to the theater for $1.10,” says Emanuel Azenberg. Granted that was a while ago; he’s 88. But he is also a Broadway producer and general manager with nine Tony Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement, and six decades of experience with some hundred plays and musicals right up to the present. And his analysis, which he explained in a TEDx Broadway talk this week, is that Broadway has lost its way, and not just because of ticket prices – but definitely because of them.
Azenberg is so quotable that, in what was meant to be a conversation with TEDx Broadway co-founder Damian Bazadona, Bazadona spent most of his time reciting past Azenberg remarks:
“We don’t have an agreed upon criteria for quality. The value and aesthetics and taste have been devalued.”
“I don’t find it tragic, but rather sad, that something so good is being eroded.”
Below are a handful of excerpts from the remarks Azenberg said directly. A video of his talk will be presented, according to the organizers, via the TEDx Broadway website.
A hundred years ago on Broadway, there were 270 openings each year; there were 90 theaters. Now there are 35 theaters and 35 openings.
When “A Chorus Line” opened, the top ticket price was $15. That’s not a joke. And now it’s $250 to $500. We’ve chased away an audience.
The theater owners hate the unions, the unions hate the producers and the producers hate the theater owner. None of them get their way and they all take it out on the customer
Here is a list of people who started in the theater, started on Broadway, and left. (Some came back on occasion): Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Bobby Duvall, Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman, Julie Harris, Annette Bening, Alan Bates, Robert Redford… You want any more? What happened? We lost them…The theater has to be the queen of the arts. It has to mean something. The plays have to be meaningful and it has to be an honor to be there. That existed for many years. We have to get back to that.
Broadway has become a theme park because we charge so much money; the shows should be in Orlando.
Something has to change. The management won’t do it. The unions won’t do it. But if Meryl Streep and Lin Manuel Miranda went to the governor and said ‘this isn’t working, give us three theaters on 18th Street.’
if you really want to change the diversity, then, once a month, Broadway should provide every show for nothing. [And offer tickets to] every high school in the metropolitan area for the next fifteen years. The door has to open. Nobody knows about the theater at 174th Street in the Bronx. Somebody opens the door and they’ll go ‘hey, maybe there’s a place for me.’
Update September 4, 2023:
I have no idea why this post from almost sixteen months ago has suddenly gotten a huge amount of traffic. But since it continues to do so, I’ll add a link to a fuller account of the interview that Damian Bazadona posted on Medium in February (nine months after it took place), which included nine short YouTube video excerpts, which I repost below: