How Broadway Saved New York City

December 21, 2015 at 6:34 pm

As you’re waiting in line to plunk down hundreds of dollars for a ticket to the latest hit on the Broadway stage, you may be surprised to learn you’re standing amid a history of widespread corruption and bribery that prompted an investigation by the attorney general.

New York Post Theater Critic Michael Riedel says the theater industry just a few decades ago was a different scene from today’s mecca that attracted more than 13 million people this past year.

“We think of Broadway now as really this multi-billion dollar global empire with hits all over the world and corporations making a lot of money like Disney and Warner Brothers and Universal producing these shows,” Riedel told MetroFocus Host Jack Ford. “But Broadway back in the time my book starts in the early 60s was a seedy backwater of the entertainment business.”

Back then, Riedel says scalpers were in cahoots with box office employees to drive up the price of tickets.

“If you were in the box office and you were, let’s say the box office treasurer for Neil Simon’s new hit “Plaza Suite,” that ticket face value is maybe $10, but a lot of people want to see that show especially on the weekends, so that $10 ticket on the scalper market is really a $70,” he said. “Now how does the scalper get the tickets? He pays the guy in the box office. Money, in cash, and that guy just takes all of those tickets and gives ’em right to the scalpers.”

When theatergoers were told the show was sold out, they were forced to turn to the black market at a time when the going was already tough in New York, Riedel says.

“At the same time this is happening in the 60s, you begin to have the unraveling really of New York City. New York is careening towards bankruptcy. Times Square is becoming the Times Square of ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘Taxi Driver.’ Pimps, prostitutes — very seedy,” he said.

Riedel documents this shady side of Broadway in his new book “Razzle Dazzle: The Battle For Broadway,” and introduces you to the players who helped usher in the theater renaissance, which ultimately helped revitalize New York City.

“It’s got a lot of gossip and juice, and I enjoy that part but I think the fundamental thing I really wanted to show with this book was that when New York City and Times Square were really down and out, they had one thing going for them that no other city in the world has and that’s Broadway,” he said. “And the characters in my book, they stuck by Broadway when it almost went under, they saved it with shows like ‘A Chorus Line’ and ’42nd Street’ and ‘Cats.’ And by saving Broadway I think they also lifted the fortunes of the city.”

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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