Sunday, January 13, 2002

Holiday audiences break records

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's theater, dance and concert stages kept the recession at bay during December as more than 165,000 people enjoyed holiday fare.

        “It says so much about what people are willing to come downtown for,” says Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival's Jasson Minadakis, who is “tickled beyond belief” with his theater's record-breaking holiday run of Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol. “We know it was a slow year for retail but a record year for shows.”

        The biggest holiday numbers again belonged to The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which rang up 75,000 in attendance, a whisper less than Broadway in Cincinnati's all-time record-holder Phantom of the Opera, which sold 76,000 tickets during one Cincinnati run.

        Cincinnati Ballet management is ecstatic with the ticket sales to the newly designed Nutcracker, with a box office total almost $100,000 higher than the previous year.

        “It under-performed (in 2000),” says Ballet general manager Alan Hills of 2000's $630,000.

        For 2001, the goal — 32,000 tickets and $725,000 — was high and the Ballet performed like a champ.

        Nutcracker performed to 113 percent attendance for its final performance. (The ballet hadn't been selling obstructed-view seating in Music Hall. By the final weekend “people were begging for those tickets” and the ballet obligingly sold them, Mr. Hills said with a laugh.)

        He speculates that people staying home instead of traveling for the holidays made a difference for the ballet and other holiday shows.

        Getting the new Nutcracker on its toes took more effort than anyone had expected, says Mr. Hills, but “it did everything we wanted it to do. It is a work in progress, and we'll be adding tricks and magic in succeeding years.”

Old favorites do well
               Numbers held strong for both Holiday with the Pops and Home for the Holidays for Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

        Three Pops performances at Music Hall drew a sold-out 9,904.

        Attendance for Home for the Holidays, held at Taft Theatre, dipped significantly from 2000 (12,377 to 10,310). Symphony management points to scheduling as the culprit, with only one set of weekend dates available.

        Popularity of Playhouse in the Park's holiday perennial A Christmas Carol remained on pace with a total attendance of 23,486, playing to 94 percent capacity for 40 performances.

        The return of Beehive in the Shelterhouse drew the theater's best box office ever, with 15,946 ticket-buyers selling out 64 of 74 performances during the nine-week run, which ended last Sunday.

        Charles Dickens also jingled at the box office at Cincinnati Shakespeare, where Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol overwhelmed expectations, playing to 3,500, a significant rise from last season's popular Compleat Works of Shakspr (Abridged) that drew 2,800.

        Ensemble Theatre held steady at 4,400 attendance for its annual original holiday musical The Adventures of Pinocchio.

No Rockettes in 2002
               There are already a few hints for the holidays 2002:

        The Rockettes will bypass Cincinnati for a new audience. Expectation is that it will be at least two holiday seasons before the show returns.

        There has been talk about booking another family-friendly show in the holiday slot next season, says Broadway in Cincinnati rep Nancy Parrott, if scheduling allows. “It would be awful to see (the Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble Hall) dark.”

        Nutcracker, Mr. Hills reports happily, has also gotten “some nice offers for possible touring.” (Any touring engagements would be early in the holiday season before the Cincinnati opening.) One presenter flew in to see the show; others called.

        “Our issue in moving forward,” says Mr. Hills, “is how to keep it accessible and make what we need to make.”

        Weeknight tickets were gobbled up by big companies that were offered “great specials.” Those specials may be fractionally less great in the future as the ballet reached only 99.5 percent ($722,000) of its sales goal. “Too much discounting,” Mr. Hills said.

        This was the final year of Cinergy's six-year sponsorship of Home for the Holidays. Symphony representative Rosemary Weathers promises the show will go on in 2002, and the symphony is talking to potential sponsors.

        The Playhouse looks forward to another successful holiday run of A Christmas Carol, now in its second decade. The holiday show for the Shelterhouse will be announced in spring.


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