Thursday, August 16, 2012

Heinz Hall fills open weeks with Broadway show series - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Broadway at Heinz Hall is nothing new. But "Broadway at Heinz Hall," in which the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra fills three open weeks on its schedule by booking touring shows, is a new concept that may continue beyond 2012-13.

"I'm surprised we hadn't done it before," said James Wilkinson, PSO president and CEO.

The PSO has been bringing Broadway tours to Heinz Hall since the 1980s and entered into an agreement with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in 2002 to do the bookings. When three weeks were open on the calendar, the new series came together very quickly.

"It took six or seven weeks from the time we decided until the press release went out," Mr. Wilkinson said.

The three shows include two new to Pittsburgh, "Catch Me If You Can" (Dec. 26-30) and "Elvis Lives" (March 29-30). "Chicago," which opens the new series Nov. 8-11, had a successful run at Heinz Hall as part of the Broadway series in 2007.

Touring musicals have long been a staple of Heinz Hall programming. PNC Broadway Across America -- Pittsburgh shows coming to the venue for the 2012-13 season are "Flashdance" and "Anything Goes," along with a bonus show, "American Idiot."

Although the Trust books those shows, the PSO is responsible for marketing and selling single tickets to nonsubscribers, so there is a system in place for marketing and selling its three-show series.

"We try and have as many things in the hall for as many weeks as we can," Mr. Wilkinson said. "We don't have that many empty weeks because the Grand Classics take up 21 weeks and the Pops take up another eight weeks and the orchestra is on vacation for 10."

On a Regional Asset Development application filed July 16, the new series was part of the answer to the question: "What steps are you taking to deal with operational deficits and/or unrestricted net assets?"

PSO officials responded: "In the short-term, the PSO plans on taking advantage of potential earned revenue opportunities in the form of adding a three-week Broadway series as well as select popular programming. The Broadway series adds approximately $1.1 million to the 2013 budget but has a large upside in ticket revenue."

"There is no outside money being used for this series," Mr. Wilkinson said. "We expect it to be self-sustaining."

The only overlap between the new series and PNC Broadway Across America shows at the Benedum Center occurs in March, when "Elvis Lives" is due to play in the midst of "The Book of Mormon" run.

Mr. Wilkinson does not see "Broadway at Heinz Hall" as being counter to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's interests.

"I had breakfast with [Trust president and CEO Kevin McMahon] this morning," he said Thursday, "and we were talking about things we can do to expand Broadway in Pittsburgh for both of us. Broadway is a very active market here."

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