West End Theaters Resisting Broadway Drought

Doubtless, a fate that befalls Broadway is bound to be felt in theater districts around the world. London‘s West End, of course, is no exception. The effects of a worldwide financial crisis have affected discretionary spending indiscriminately, and the West End has seen some major shows that have struggled to “find an audience.” Nonetheless, London’s stages are faring better than the major productions in Manhattan.

At a recent showing of the newly opened “Sister Act” at the London Palladium Theatre, I had a chance to catch up with international ticket agent Keith Prowse‘s Ian Dulson. He believes that the relative strength of London’s productions is mostly the result of price. Tickets to a major show in London may go for just over $100 (including agent fee), while some Broadway productions approach double that amount.

While Dulson did stay upbeat, he listed several shows that are “trying to find audiences,” which is apparently industry parlance for under-attendance. Compared to the New York scene, however, London appears to Dulson to be in better shape.

“Sister Act” is the latest show to open in the West End, coming to stage on June 2, 2009, and the response has been strong from the start. It helps to have a celebrity (Whoopi Goldberg) listed as executive producer, and the show does draw from the popularity of the films that preceded it. The production itself was strong, with an energetic, talented cast and a dynamic set that tested the performers’ coordination as they performed amid structural changes on stage.

The crowds drawn consistently speak to the trend as much as they do to the production value. Constrained spending may be loosened somewhat by a talented cast or a desirable show, but it’s unlikely to change consumer behavior for a sustained period of time. The fact that guests are swarming in front of the Palladium suggests that the West End is holding on better than its cousin across the Atlantic.

Disclosure: Visit Britain paid for this trip, and British Airways picked up the flights. I did all the hard work on my own … for you and for Gadling, not for Visit Britain.