One year in on DPAC, Raleigh's Broadway Series South throws in the towel on musicals
February 13, 2010
It's been a year since the Durham Performing Arts Center opened, with the $45 million or so big-stage theater competing against longtime Raleigh institutions for Broadway touring productions.
At the time, there was understandable skepticism as to how much-smaller Durham would fare relative to the million-population Wake County's downtown arts centers.
Beyond the issue of the viability of DPAC's programming, however, are philosophical and economic issues. First, there's the issue of competition with the Progress Energy Center, the existing four-stage facility in Raleigh...
The Raleigh venue's general manager, Jim Lavery, says the competition is real, but he seems to take it in stride. "We're going to lose shows, but we're not backing down," he says. Indeed, he points to a major coup: a four-week run next summer of Jersey Boys (averaging 2,606 tickets sold, and raking in $176,505).
But Broadway Series South's current mainstage season is also mainly fresh productions; four of its six shows hit the road in the last six months. The remaining two launched in 2006.
The Durham Performing Arts Center will have to offer those kinds of shows consistently if the 2,800-seat downtown venue is to be successful, said William Jones, executive director of North Carolina Theatre. (Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium is somewhat smaller, at 2,300 seats.)
"If they have a big, big show we can't get in Raleigh, I think they'll do OK," said Jones, whose company produces its own shows, as opposed to tours. "If they're doing revivals of shows we've done before, I think they're going to have a tough time."
So, how are things going one year in?
As a brief story on WRAL notes, it's curtains for Broadway Series South's namesake productions, with the theater series abandoning the musical productions that gave the series its eponymous title.
Instead, the Raleigh venue will change around its line-up to try to reposition its niche in the local market. Per WRAL:
Jim Lavery, general manager of the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, said the production company will no longer feature Broadway musicals in an effort to broaden its reach.
The decision was based, in part, on the opening of the Durham Performing Arts Center in late 2008, Lavery said. The DPAC features some of the same type of entertainment, producing musicals like "Phantom of the Opera" and "Mamma Mia!"
In some ways, it's not a surprise; Lavery had noted a year ago that he considered Broadway shows to be a shrinking market, a fret BCR has heard from Durham gadflys, too. (And a big reason that the DPAC, like other venues, mixes in concerts, comedians and other draws.)
And as Lavery notes, the Progress Energy Center has an interesting new feature, an outdoor amphitheater in downtown Raleigh that will allow even greater capacity for shows than either the Raleigh or Durham spaces.
Between its indoor and outdoor spaces, look for more shows by the likes of Cirque de Soleil or rock-oriented performances and shows.
In a sense, more variety isn't a bad thing, for either Raleigh residents or Durhamites.
A broader range of show choices and two venues competing, trying to outposition each other with innovative performances? Sign me up.
This is interesting. I too am in favor of more variety for this area. While I live in N. Raleigh I can get to DPAC just as easily and quickly as the Progress Energy Center. I will actually be making my first trip to the DPAC this April and am looking forward to it.
Posted by: John | February 13, 2010 at 01:58 PM
I love the DPAC. They get a good variety of shows and the room is excellent. We saw Steve Winwood there on Tuesday, he was incredible!
Posted by: aburtch | February 13, 2010 at 07:12 PM
Durham made a great move by building DPAC. Building a low-cost outdoor ampitheatre somewhere downtown would be an equally great move, similar to what Raleigh is doing.
Raleigh's Walnut Creek ampitheatre is poorly located for those of us in the western half of the Triangle, on top of being poorly run. Durham could steal many of their events if we had a good facility.
Posted by: Todd P | February 14, 2010 at 01:23 AM
This was inevitable the moment Durham got Nederlander to sign up as the operator. With a major actually-on-Broadway producer running the place, Durham was going to have a major inside track to getting fresher shows with better casts in a bigger hall.
Some of this was due to the natural fit between DPAC's raison d'etre, the ADF, and Broadway -- both require amplified music and very large stages with full fly systems. The amenities that Broadway needs and wants were already getting put into the facility, so it just made sense to bring in the big production numbers. DPAC also benefited from Memorial Hall's crappy seat layout for theater productions -- having a large orchestra with a low balcony that wraps around it on three sides means really long sight lines and bad angles from the side. In DPAC the seats are stacked front and center of the stage, meaning that the worst thing that you can get is a short sight line but a steep angle.
But part of Raleigh shutting down is just that Durham got very good people to design and run the theater. If they'd rolled out with crappy customer service and poorly produced shows, none of this would matter. However, I think anyone who's been to a show at Progress Energy and a show at DPAC can attest, Durham just steps it up a notch.
Posted by: Michael Bacon | February 14, 2010 at 09:46 AM
Yeah! Creative Destruction!
Posted by: al | February 14, 2010 at 02:30 PM
Just read a comment about DPAC stepping it up an notch from Raleigh Progress Energy site. In my opinion, they stepped it up a bunch of notches...
Posted by: Bob Woodruff | May 21, 2010 at 03:44 PM
Great comment, Michael. Folks, what Michael doesn't mention is, during the planning stages, all the so-called "experts" were pushing Clear Channel to run the DPAC -- and the community pushed back.
Those experts are now pulling a muscle, patting themselves on the back.
The community wasn't invited to the early meetings but, seeing the lack of transparency, we knocked in the door and sat down at the table. Michael, along with many others, made sure that input from the community wasn't just heard -- but incorporated -- into the final agreement.
Thanks to community involvement, Nederlander (not Clear Channel) is DPAC's operator. Thanks to community involvement, DPAC's success story has a happier ending.
Posted by: John Schelp | May 22, 2010 at 03:37 PM