Great reviews and a new top ticket price: `The Producers' wows Broadway

Saturday, April 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ It's springtime for Mel Brooks.

``The Producers,'' a $10 million stage version of his classic film comedy, is Broadway's biggest hit since ``The Lion King,'' with the highest ticket price on Broadway _ $100 _ and rhapsodic reviews Friday from critics.

``The real thing,'' proclaimed The New York Times, ``a big Broadway book musical that is so ecstatically drunk on its powers to entertain that it leaves you delirious.''

``The first Broadway smash of the new century,'' burbled Variety, the show-biz weekly.

The musical is basically sold out into November. It opened Thursday at the St. James Theatre with an advance of $17 million.

Tickets through April 2002 went on sale Friday, not only at the St. James, but across 44th Street at the Majestic and Broadhurst theaters, where ``The Phantom of the Opera'' and ``Fosse'' are playing. It is an unusual move because the St. James is owned by Jujamcyn Theaters and the other two by the rival Shubert Organization.

The extra box-office windows were needed to handle the crowds, said John Barlow, a spokesman for ``The Producers.'' Those potential theatergoers were greeted with more than long lines.

The top ticket price was hiked overnight, from $91 to $100 _ a $99 top price plus $1 for theater restoration. Other shows have charged that amount in the past: the two-part, eight-hour version of ``Nicholas Nickleby'' and the limited run Kevin Spacey ``Iceman Cometh,'' for example.

Yet ``The Producers'' is the first open-ended engagement to charge that much for a majority of its seats. At the 1,623-seat St. James, the new ticket pricing could mean a weekly gross of $1.1 million, the highest on Broadway.

By 5 p.m. Friday, $2.5 million worth of tickets had been sold, with the figure expected to top $3 million by midnight. The day after it opened in 1998, ``The Lion King'' sold $2.7 million worth of tickets at a top price of $75.

The show's real producers, a high-powered consortium that includes Jujamcyn president Rocco Landesman, Miramax Films honchos Bob and Harvey Weinstein and Brooks himself, did not return phone calls to comment about the ticket price hike and the show.

But Tom Viertel, Jujamcyn's creative director, told The New York Times, ``I don't think we're breaking a major barrier, except for Broadway's own limits. We're operating in a world where there's a lot of precedent for these prices.''

``It's time has come,'' said Barry Weissler, producer of such hits as ``Chicago'' and ``Annie Get Your Gun,'' referring to the $100 ticket. ``And I suppose with `The Producers,' if you've got it, flaunt it.''

Not that anybody seems to be complaining. Thursday's starry opening-night audience agreed with the critics.

``It's a fantastic production,'' enthused Kathleen Turner at intermission. ``I'm sure it's going to be a hit.'' Glenn Close and Michael J. Fox agreed, while Demi Moore said, ``I'm just happy to be here.''

``I've been waiting 32 years to see this and it is living up to every expectation I could possibly have,'' said Martin Lewis, a comedian and performer who lives in Los Angeles.

``The Producers'' stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the roles played in the 1968 movie by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. They portray the immortal scamsters, Max Bialystock and Leopold Bloom, who raise more money than is needed to put on a flop musical. They plan to run off with the excess when the show, ``Springtime for Hitler,'' closes. Of course, it is a hit.

Will Broadway's other hot-ticket musical follow the lead of ``The Producers''? ``The Lion King,'' a consistent sellout since it opened in New York, is holding at $90 for its best seats. Besides, the Disney extravaganza is pretty much sold out into June 2002.