Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

Best In Show

February 26, 2006
By Courant Arts Staff Writers


The big news in theater for the first part of 2006 can be summed up in three words: "The Lion King."

After opening eight years ago on Broadway, the national tour finally makes it to Connecticut with its 61/2-week run at the Bushnell. Coupled with December's blockbuster "Wicked," the Bushnell looks for a solid season after several in the red. However, most of the bucks it brings in are not from the behemoth shows but the successful smaller ones such as "My Fair Lady" and "The Rat Pack Live," for which the center gets the largest cuts from the box office. Executive Director David Fay can breathe easier - at least until he gears up for 2006-07, and beyond, when the center's producing activities move from rhetoric to reality.

The Bushnell has formed alliances with two new commercial producing groups that will create new works - so that the Bushnell can own a piece of the shows it presents on its two stages. The move will allow the Bushnell to gain more control - and profit - from the shows it presents.

The Bushnell and four nonprofit arts centers elsewhere in the country formed Five Cent Productions, a consortium that will present shows (including dance, classical music and stand-up comedy) that can play at the member theaters and beyond.

TheaterWorks has two of its biggest productions ever lined up for 2006: "The Exonerated," now playing, and "Take Me Out," which will open in August. Still, the little downtown Hartford theater has one of the most enviable subscription bases - 6,000-plus - and earned-income percentages in the business.

After two new and well-received shows failed to bring in the crowds to Hartford Stage, the theater rallied with a solid "Christmas Carol" - even against the "Wicked" phenom - and a surprisingly good start for "Moon for the Misbegotten." The theater is moving forward with a plan to renovate and expand its existing Church Street facility - but without a managing director for a while after Jim Ireland abruptly resigned in December.

Other theater projects appear to be on hold for a while, partly because of uncertainty over how much state bonding money will be made available. And there has been difficulty in fundraising, amid uncertainty in the economy.

Goodspeed Opera House's plans for a new theater in East Haddam, following its flirtation in Middletown, now have back-burner status. The theater is more engaged in its touring ambitions, having launched a national run of its summer production of "The Boy Friend," directed by Julie Andrews. Hitting the road after this summer's run is "Pippin."

Long Wharf Theater recently won approval for $750,000 in bond money for planning studies for its move to a new arts complex in downtown New Haven. That award is a tiny sliver of the $30 million in bond money needed for the $60 million project. Rell has said that she supports the project.

Like Hartford Stage, Long Wharf, too, is proceeding without a managing director. Michael Stotts left that position following ongoing conflicts with Long Wharf's board.

Meanwhile, it's all systems go for the Westport Country Playhouse, with Tazewell Thompson taking over the leadership reins from Joanne Woodward. Thompson, who was recently with the Arena Stage in Washington, has set a full menu for 2006 for the now year-round facility, including spring and fall shows along with a five-show summer series.


Audiobooks and e-books sold well in 2005, but sales of books on religion dropped last year. Sales of children's and young adult hardcover and paperback books went up, while sales of adult mass-market books were nearly flat, rising just 0.2 percent compared with 2004, according to the Association of American Publishers.

The AAP is the principal trade association for the U.S. book publishing industry and tracks sales of books from the major commercial book publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and medium-size houses, nonprofit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies.

Hardcover books for young readers had a sales increase of 59.6 percent and sales of paperback editions in that category went up 10.6 for the year.

Sales of audiobooks went up 29 percent compared with 2004, and e-books, which can be downloaded from the Web, showed a sales increase of 44.8 percent for the year.

Religious books sales dropped by 6.1 percent for 2005, after a 5.6 percent sales gain the previous year.

Adult hardcover book sales went up 1.4 percent last year, and adult paperback sales increased by 9.5 percent.

University press books had a sales drop of 32.2 percent for hardcover and 5.5 percent for paperback editions.

At R.J. Julia Booksellers, one of the state's most respected independent bookstores and the site of many appearances by nationally known authors, 2005 was a good year, said Roxanne Coady, who owns the store in Madison.

Interest in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" helped, said Coady, but "hand-selling" - recommending specific books to specific readers - was the key to good sales. It "reaffirmed the need for us to put the right book in the right hands," she said.

She expects 2006 to be a good year. "Box stores have run a little bit of their course," she said, while the Internet remains a challenge to independent booksellers. Still, she said, "I believe in people's desire to have an experience" at the store, and she also plans to add recommendations for certain books to the rjjulia.com website.


Concert-ticket revenues in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2005, with $3.1 billion in total business, according to trade publication Pollstar. That's not quite the good news it appears to be, though - overall ticket sales were down again, which means that high ticket prices for acts such as the Rolling Stones and U2 made up the difference.

Attendance at some Connecticut venues was up, though, after a poor showing in 2004. The Dodge Music Center had a paid attendance of 232,000 at 18 shows in 2005, and a total attendance (including complimentary tickets such as radio-station giveaways) of about 250,000. That's a big jump over 2004, in which 204,933 people attended 17 shows at the amphitheater when it was still called the Meadows.

The Dodge's sister venue, Wallingford's Chevrolet Theatre (which is also owned by the local division of Live Nation, formerly Clear Channel), had more than 210,000 people attend 95 shows in 2005, which includes concerts and theater events. That's substantially lower than attendance in 2004 - 282,000 people at 42 events. Koplik, who runs the Connecticut branch of Live Nation, attributed the drop to 16 fewer Broadway shows at the former Oakdale Theatre last year.

More than 850,000 people attended events at the Mohegan Sun Arena last year, including close to 50 concerts, along with Connecticut Sun basketball games and other events.

The Hartford Civic Center drew more than 75,000 people to seven concerts last year, including shows by U2 and Green Day.

There are some big-name concerts already booked for 2006, including four performances at the Civic Center by Billy Joel and Fall Out Boy's sold-out show in Bridgeport in May.


The anonymous $100 million gift to the Yale School of Music notwithstanding, 2005 had its share of dire financial news from the classical music world.

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra was forced to cut $600,000 from its budget last summer, resulting in the cancellation or relocation of many concerts. The historic Hartford firm of Austin Organs Inc. announced that it was closing - followed two months later with news of an incremental start-up. Reeling from insufficient attendance, the Bushnell had to rethink its classical music series; now the focus is on smaller presentations instead of costly traveling orchestras.

According to local administrators, the future is still paved with challenges.

"Things are very tough. It's not just Connecticut Opera, it's everyone here across the board," said Willie Anthony Waters, Connecticut Opera's general and artistic director.

A common concern heard from Waters and Hartford Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Charles Owens is the recent shortfall in corporate, foundation and government giving. For both organizations, the key to future growth is individual philanthropy.

Connecticut Opera's March gala celebrating Waters' 25th anniversary with the organization netted more than $130,000, about 30 percent more than from a gala the year before. According to Owens, the orchestra's annual fund enjoyed its best year ever, with $1.55 million in gifts, grants and sponsorships in 2005, up 21 percent from a year earlier. The organization's development program is on course to achieve its record-high fundraising goal for fiscal year 2005-06 of $2.5 million.

"At the midpoint in the season, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra is on track to achieve a balanced budget for the 2005-2006 fiscal year," Owens said.

The HSO has been buoyed by a significant increase in single-ticket sales for its Masterworks and Pops series. Two December performances of Handel's "Messiah" broke the record for the highest-grossing subscription concerts in HSO history, generating combined subscription and single-ticket revenues of $140,547.

Subscriptions have been another story. Revenues are down about 12 percent across all series, a slippage that Owens attributes to the cancellation of the "Rush Hour Classics" and "disappointing results" from the orchestra's telemarketing operation. The HSO has switched telemarketing vendors, and anticipates better results in 2006-07.

Connecticut Opera's subscription renewal rate is the highest it's ever been at 84 percent. According to Waters, that's a very high measure compared with other regional opera companies in the country.

Connecticut Opera has recently finished marketing surveys to gauge audience response and programming for future seasons. Plans for an endowment campaign remain elusive, however. The first priority remains paying down its accumulated deficit.

"I firmly believe that you cannot start an endowment until you have two years of a balanced budget," Waters said.


The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford reported its attendance up 20 percent at its annual meeting in November 2005, but so was its deficit.

Willard Holmes, the museum's director, said that more visitors went to the nation's oldest public art museum, but "unless we translate that success to the museum's annual fund, we're going to fall short of our ambitions to balance the budget."

The museum reported a shortfall of $1,065,695 for 2005.

Attorney Coleman Casey, a longtime board member, was named to head its board.

Meanwhile, the deal to buy the old Hartford Times Building for $2.5 million was completed, and in 2007 the Atheneum expects to complete its $12.5 million renovation project on the 52,500-square-foot building. After that, the museum will start renovations on its main set of buildings.

Major exhibitions this year include the current Rodin show, which runs through April 30; an examination of the Colt firearms collections in May; and the June return of its Hudson River School collection from a national tour.

The New Britain Museum of American Art will open its new Chase Family Building in April, a two-year project. The new 42,600-square-foot addition more than doubles the exhibition space and adds 75 parking spaces. The addition features a new graphite wall drawing by Sol LeWitt, a mural commemorating the victims of 9/11 and viewing benches created by local artists.


Last year brought the closing of the York Square Theater in New Haven, a locally owned theater for 35 years. It speaks to the difficulty of keeping a non-chain house open.

The movie industry nationwide is seeing a dip at the box office.

A survey by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., released in November, depicts an industry under siege and whose outlook is murky, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Times went on to report that the economic development survey found that studios were beginning to cut jobs in anticipation of a slowdown in DVD revenues that have been so lucrative in recent years. Studios also are grappling with softer box-office receipts, movie piracy and uncertainty over which new technology will best deliver entertainment to consumers.

"People see this as an industry that's very glamorous and exciting, but it's an industry that's going through some major inflections," said the report's co-author, Jack Kyser, chief economist with the business support and research organization.

Also, the report said, an increasing number of films are being made out of the country. In October, for example, 26 were made in Canada and other countries.

The Los Angeles Times said that the report also highlighted a rise in "union militancy" at the Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild of America, West. The unions have elected new leaders who have vowed to take a tougher line in negotiations with studios. It said that the studios were developing plans in the event of strikes.

But despite tougher times at the box office, support is growing statewide for major tax breaks to encourage film production here. The backing comes as developers seek local approval to build new movie studios in Connecticut.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island recently enacted similar tax incentives.

State officials, politicians and industry representatives have stepped up their efforts, saying that the interest in building film studios here, combined with competition from bordering states, has created new momentum for enacting the tax credits.

Two proposals - both for combined movie studio and theme park developments in southeastern Connecticut - are being considered by municipal officials in Preston and North Stonington. Meanwhile, Connecticut-based companies with extensive film operations, including ESPN and World Wrestling Entertainment, might also be persuaded to bring new work here if the proper incentives were in place.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?