Broadway never felt so close.

Broadway Is Booming in Buffalo


on January 13, 2015 - 6:36 PM

, updated January 13, 2015 at 10:52 PM

For several years, attendance numbers for Broadway productions have climbed to record heights.

Now, the same thing is happening at Buffalo’s signature theater.

In 2014, following year after year of broken attendance records, Shea’s Performing Arts Center saw a 7.5 percent bump in attendance for its Broadway shows over the previous year. That news comes on the heels of a report released last week by the Broadway League, which showed that attendance at plays and musicals in Broadway theaters jumped by 13 percent in 2014 over the same period.

Shea’s, already one of the most sought-after venues for one-week Broadway engagements in the United States, saw its overall attendance at 219 performances – including concerts, educational activities and other events – increase by 13 percent over 2013. That good news comes on top of its ever-rising subscriber base, which now towers at a flabbergasting, previously unimaginable 13,471.

“I don’t have an open weekend date until the middle of June,” said Shea’s President and CEO Anthony Conte. “We’re really booked pretty solid. We’ve been getting a lot of requests for concerts this spring and I don’t have any place to put them, which is a nice problem to have.”

The increase in Broadway attendance, Conte said, isn’t because the 3,019-seat venue put on more shows this year or some other fluke of scheduling or luck. It’s because Western New Yorkers’ already healthy appetite for live musical theater is getting bigger and bigger.

“It’s been steadily climbing,” Conte said of last year’s Broadway bump. “It’s amazing. We’re certainly not complaining about it, that’s for sure.”

What accounts for the seemingly inexorable rise in Broadway ticket sales at Shea’s?

Conte said it’s a combination of a healthier economy, our growing fatigue of screen-based entertainment and a 2014-15 season that plays directly to the theatergoing habits of Western New Yorkers.

“I think it’s partially due to the economy freeing up a little bit. I suspect maybe things have eased off a little bit, so people are taking advantage a little more of entertainment,” he said. “I think they’re getting a little tired of staring at a screen all the time and wanting to be entertained. And live entertainment has value and economically, it’s possible.”

The current season, loaded with familiar shows like “Joseph” and “Phantom of the Opera,” also helps.

“I think it’s probably reflective of people in Buffalo like things that they’re familiar with. That’s not to say that they have to be old shows, but they’re comfortable with the titles, they’ve heard of them, they think it sounds like something they want to see.”

The first half of the current Broadway season has sold extraordinarily well, according to Shea’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations Lisa Grisanti. “Cinderella” sold out a remarkable 97 percent of the house, with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” selling 75 percent. “Motown: The Musical,” which doesn’t open until next week, already has sold 91 percent of Shea’s capacity in advance. “Chicago,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Kinky Boots” are set to do similar numbers.

Though Shea’s success mirrors a trend of increased theatergoing throughout the United States, it remains in many ways ahead of the game. On average, Conte said, Shea’s sells between 75 and 85 of its seats for every Broadway performance. The national average, he estimated, floats somewhere between 66 and 68 percent.

In addition to that, said producer Albert Nocciolino, who has long produced Shea’s Broadway seasons, Shea’s stands apart from other venues because it is an architectural destination. For many visitors, just walking into the lobby and smelling the roasted nuts is worth the price of admission. It doesn’t hurt that the price remains low, with most tickets selling for between $30 and $80.

For Nocciolino, the reasons behind Shea’s seemingly inexorable rise aren’t complicated at all. With rare exceptions, when a show works in New York, it works just as well in Buffalo. The biggest difference, he said, is that Broadway producers have found a way to capitalize on straight plays by casting big names – Bradley Cooper in “The Elephant Man,” Hugh Jackman in “The River,” Glenn Close in “A Delicate Balance” – a strategy that’s difficult to replicate on the road.

But in general, he said, “When Broadway’s hot, then the road is hot.

“When there are shows that sell tickets in New York and they make their way out on the road, it’s not an accident that they do the same kind of business on the road. What makes the difference is when you have a venue like Shea’s, that takes you to another level.”