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Broadway Test Drives in Seattle

Just came home from the Broadway preview of “Catch Me If You Can.”  As it turns out, Seattle is the dress rehearsal playground of many a show destined for Broadway.  Since moving to Seattle, I’ve seen “The Wedding Singer,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Shrek,” and “Memphis” prior to their Broadway runs and “Lone Star Love,” which never made it to Broadway (the Merry Wives of Windsor in Texas – bad plan).  While the opportunity to see shows destined for Broadway without going to New York is a perk for Seattleites; what makes Seattle audiences a good indicator of whether a show is going to break the bank or go bust on Broadway?      

In search of an answer to that question, I staked out a position on the balcony of the 5thAvenue Theater both preshow and during intermission, and surveyed the audience (not an easy feat since a big-haired blonde in a dangerously askew wrap dress kept peering over my shoulder – there’s this thing, it’s called PERSONAL SPACE – sheesh). 

So, the audience.  Ethnically Diverse?  Not so much.  Sexually diverse?  Reasonably so, but nothing to write home about.  Economically diverse?  I doubt it – most tickets are between $50 and $93 (although there are rumors of side balcony tickets for $29), out of reach for most on a budget.  And while there are $20 day of show tickets for those 25 and under, there were few under 25 in the audience tonight.

Instead, the audience consisted of groups of women 55 and over, couples in the 30s-50s age range, a scattering of gay men (mostly couples), and a few twosomes of women in their 30s and 40s.  The group – 99% white.  Does this audience resemble the make-up of a New York audience? 

Seattle is a town that heavily supports the arts and regularly sells out the theater, so maybe that’s the draw.  There are some things audiences in Seattle do, however, that I have never experienced in New York.  There was the woman next to me, ignoring the play, while using her coat as a blanket and huddling under it throughout, despite the fact that the inside temperature of the theater was easily 74 degrees.  There was the couple who talked through the entire orchestral overture as if it was a commercial break (note to self – memorize faces and avoid at movie theaters).  And my favorites of the night, the two 30 somethings behind me (one in a zebra print top, denim skirt and knee high black boots – in August – no joke) whooping after, and sometimes during, every song as if they were 13 year-olds at a Jonas Brothers concert.  They even sang along at parts.

Is it this random weirdness that makes Seattle a good little test tube?  No idea.   But, hopefully I’ll have many more previews to figure it out (just please don’t sit me next to the squealers).

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