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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 09:30 GMT
The show must go on
Ruthie Henshall (centre) was the leading lady in Peggy Sue Got Married
Peggy Sue Got Married: Some shows have been forced to close
BBC News Online's Emma Saunders investigates whether the festive season will help London and New York's ailing theatrelands.

There may be no business like showbusiness but things have been looking less than glitzy for the West End and Broadway over the past few months.

The theatre heartlands of New York and London have both suffered in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 11 September, with potential tourists opting to stay at home.

Ticket sales fell and some shows on both sides of the pond were forced to close.

And earlier this month the West End's theatre workers voted for a strike ballot over pay.

The future looked bleak. But with Christmas and New Year just around the corner, can theatre look forward to rosier prospects?

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone
Mayor Ken Livingstone wants Londoners to visit the theatre
Emma de Souza, from the Society of London Theatre, is feeling cautiously optimistic after launching The Greatest Show on Earth in the West End.

'Affordable' theatre

The 2m scheme - a joint promotion with Mayor Ken Livingstone and the Greater London Authority - aims to rejuvenate the tourist industry with 60,000 discounted theatre tickets, free return bus travel and discounts at restaurants across the capital.

People will start going out again - I'm not going to change my life, I'm not going to live in fear

Ruthie Henshall
The last discounted tickets were sold on Christmas Eve for shows in the early months of 2002.

"The whole idea is to get people enjoying the theatre again and to make it more affordable," Ms de Souza told BBC News Online.

"We have been overwhelmed by industry support. Thirty-six shows are participating," she added.

The problems go back further than 11 September, she added.

"People forget that 2000 was a hard year too, with flooding in parts of the UK and train problems possibly putting people off coming in to London."

Marin Mazzie plays Lilli Vanessi in Kiss Me, Kate
Kiss Me, Kate has been a success
Musical impresario Cameron Mackintosh has also cited transport and crime as off-putting factors.

And a general US economic downturn and the foot-and-mouth crisis in the UK meant that US visitors were staying away even before 11 September.

Hard-hit new shows

New shows have had it particularly hard.

"New productions have had to be brilliant from the start to survive, like Kiss Me, Kate," explains Ms de Souza.

"Some shows didn't get a chance to establish themselves. There has been no time for word of mouth, so important in theatre, to get around."

Ruthie Henshall, who starred in the doomed Peggy Sue Got Married, told BBC News Online she thought things would improve over Christmas.

"There will always be a place for theatre and people will want to move on the further we get away from 11 September," she said.

Emma de Souza agrees, and feels seasonal productions such as The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, aimed at children, could entice audiences back.

Rudolph Guiliani
New York's outgoing mayor, Rudolph Guiliani, has been very supportive of Broadway
Young people are an important audience, with autumn half-term (the final week of October) box office figures up 5.7% on the same time last year.

But figures for the week 4-10 November slipped to -2.9%.

Comedies may be drawing people in to escape the gloomy winter - Private Lives, Kiss Me, Kate and The Play What I Wrote have been selling well.

Beating Broadway blues

But what about the outlook on Broadway?

An 80% drop in attendances immediately after 11 September meant action was taken quickly, including a benefit show, a celebrity recording of New York, New York, financial aid packages and voluntary pay cuts by theatre workers.

Figures have been climbing back steadily since, although things are still not looking as healthy as this time last year.

In the week ending 9 December, Broadway box offices grossed $12,830,700 (8,865,100) compared with $14,842,500 (10,255,160) in the same week last year.

What is clear, however, is that the big budget musicals are keeping Broadway afloat.

The top five grossing shows (The Producers, The Lion King, 42nd Street, Mamma Mia! and Aida) provided just over a third of the latest box office tally.

Ruthie Henshall (right)
Ruthie Henshall (right) feels defiant in the face of fear
It is not all doom and gloom for new, smaller productions either. John Leguizamo's one-man show, Sexaholix - A Love Story, has had its run extended.

Back in the West End, new shows to look forward to in 2002 include Taboo, The Full Monty and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

In some ways, it looks as though the doom merchants may have exaggerated the crisis, particularly in the UK.

But a lot still needs to be done and perhaps the tragic events in America provided a wake-up call for a more integrated approach to promoting the theatre.

"We're concerned about the traditionally quiet time of January and February but we are very hopeful that the new initiative will take us through that," says Emma de Souza.

Ruthie Henshall, who is joining The Vagina Monologues, is also feeling upbeat: "People will get their courage back and start going out again. I'm not going to change my life, I'm not going to live in fear."

See also:

30 Oct 01 | Showbiz
West End opening for Kiss Me, Kate
26 Oct 01 | Arts
Blair boosts West End
22 Oct 01 | Showbiz
West End still drawing crowds
27 Sep 01 | Arts
West End fears downturn
03 Sep 01 | Showbiz
Sir Cameron: West End 'dowdy'
03 Oct 01 | Showbiz
Broadway shows recovery signs
27 Sep 01 | Showbiz
Broadway box office receipts rise
25 Sep 01 | Showbiz
Broadway begins fight back
21 Sep 01 | Showbiz
Broadway makes further cuts
18 Sep 01 | Showbiz
Cash aid for struggling Broadway
18 Sep 01 | Arts
Broadway shows signal closure
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