Mike Granberry’s Sunday story in the Dallas Morning News confirmed in detail what some people saw two years ago when negotiations failed between the Dallas Summer Musicals and the AT&T Performing Arts Center (then called the Dallas Performing Arts Center): We would have two presenting organizations and two separate facilities competing over touring musicals, and whether both presenters could draw enough of an audience to succeed remains an open question.
Mike goes into welcome detail about ticket sales and some of the backstage competition going on, but I think it’s safe to say North Texas has (or will soon have) enough people to fill the seats in both the Winspear Opera House and the Fair Park Music Hall. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is more populous than Chicago — and that city supports a lot of theater.
No, Mike’s story (and the commentaries that have appeared) misses the real competitive dilemma that faces these groups: Are there enough quality touring shows to fill both their seasons?
And when the Lexus Broadway Series books the Blue Man Group, the answer would seem to be: Um, not really.
Years ago, for instance, the longstanding dearth of good shows had already led Dallas Summer Musicals head Michael Jenkins to start producing his own revivals and adaptations. He’s now one of the leaders in those ventures — working together with other regional presenters.
Initially, it also seemed as if the DSM and the AT&T PAC would wisely carve out overlapping but somewhat separate audiences. For the well-established Summer Musicals, it would be family-friendly, middle-of-the-road material, while the PAC newcomer opted for more mature fare like Spring Awakening. Divvying up the product like this was welcome — competition making for more diverse offerings and all that — plus, it made sense because the Winspear is a smaller house, therefore it doesn’t have to draw as widely as the DSM, and it charges more for tickets, too, so a more ‘mature’ audience would be likely. It’s one thing to pay $75 for a ticket but when you’re paying that price for you, your spouse and your two kids, the DSM’s lower costs and kid-friendly material look attractive.
All of this is why the AT&T PAC’s second Lexus Broadway season was a disappointing development. Gone was any ‘adult’ material — except for the gay sub-plot in Billy Elliot. Where once we had August: Osage County, we now will have Young Frankenstein.
But that’s actually my point: Rather than reading into this a major retreat from more adventurous fare (which, admittedly, it may well be, given the local response to Spring Awakening), the selection can also be viewed as Simply What’s Available Out There Given The Necessary Dates. The Blue Man Group tour has been around how long?
These are two related but different issues — supply and demand: whether the two groups can draw sufficient audiences and whether the two groups can find enough (and the right) material to draw those audiences. Which is why another question Granberry misses is one that Lawson Taitte asked: Given the tight supply of material, why did both the Lexus Broadway Series and the Dallas Summer Musicals decline to book the touring show of the 2008 Tony winner, In the Heights? After all, both Austin and Houston are seeing it.
With all of this, the AT&T PAC’s CEO, Mark Nerenhausen, has always stayed with the friendly, optimistic approach: Competition is healthy. and it has certainly worked out OK where I’m from (Florida). But then, as Granberry reports, it wasn’t his group that lost the tour of South Pacific (which Michael Jenkins thought he had for the Summer Musicals).
In terms of facilities, the situation is not dissimilar to the face-offs between Reunion Arena vs. the American Airlines Center and Casa Manana vs. Bass Hall in Fort Worth. And we’ve seen how well competition helped to maintain those outlets and the different fare they offered. The face-offs were powered partly by a public vs. private struggle over control of the future of downtown Dallas and downtown Fort Worth. And, surprise, the billionaires won — more or less. Reunion is doing splendidly these days, isn’t it? And you can compare the shows coming to Bass Hall vs. those coming to Casa Manana — Casa even feeds tours to Bass but Bass doesn’t feed tours to Casa.
What’s different with the PAC and the Summer Musicals is that the city owns the Music Hall but supports the PAC, too. So whether you care about musical tours or theater at all, the fact is that Dallas’ taxpayers are invested in both halls.
And speaking of taxpayer-funded facilities, we’ve already seen what happens when a presenter can’t get enough of the right kind of shows — with the Majestic Theatre.