"It's a trend!" joked Keith Sherman, publicist of George Gershwin Alone. Sherman had been asked if he had any explanation for the fact that so many shows this spring and summer -- the Gershwin show, Follies, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and others -- announced extensions of their limited runs at one point or another but then were placed in the embarrassing position of having to rescind those extensions. George Gershwin Alone closes this Sunday, and the rather unconvincing reason given for the withdrawn extension was that the one-man show's star, Hershey Felder, had some concert dates he couldn't get out of.
"He really did have concert dates," says Sherman. "We originally announced the engagement through July 22, but Hershey had made some other bookings for himself, so we always planned to take a week off. The plan was to come back, but then we decided to end on the date we had originally announced."
Can one assume the glaringly obvious: that Gershwin and the other shows cited above took back their extensions simply because ticket sales were not up to snuff? "That's a generalization, but I think it's a fair assumption," says Sherman. "One is always optimistic. If the reality turns out not to be what the projections were, you need to be prudent. In the case of our show, I think we probably should have announced the extension earlier in order to build more of an advance." Given the very limited drawing power of George Gershwin Alone in recent weeks, observers of a sarcastic bent might be tempted to note that the title of the show could almost be taken literally.
Sherman doesn't believe that these false extensions indicate that the ticket market in general is soft this summer. "If you look at the statistics in Variety, the theater is pretty healthy right now," he says. "There are almost 30 shows running on Broadway. But selling tickets is a challenge--it takes a lot of energy and people power in terms of public relations, marketing, group sales. A lot of different efforts happen simultaneously to keep a show healthy. Ultimately, if ticket sales don't materialize at the level that's necessary--even though you want to extend and you have commitments from people who've blocked off their time--you've got to make a difficult business decision."