Scheduling conflicts, double-bookings and a lack of personnel who understand the needs of a theatrical company are driving Broadway in Tucson out of the Tucson Music Hall and into the University of Arizona's Centennial Hall.
The Nederlander Organization, the parent of Broadway in Tucson, has signed a three-year agreement to stage its shows at Centennial, beginning with the 2013-14 season.
The departure means a substantial loss in income for the city - last year alone, Nederlander paid more than a quarter of a million dollars to use the Music Hall.
Typically, Broadway in Tucson presents five shows a season, most here for one week - although some big shows, like this year's production of, "Wicked," stay longer. The shows have been at the Music Hall since Nederlander came here in 2004.
Centennial Hall has more open weeks than the Music Hall, "and the move gives us some flexibility in not having to work around resident companies," says Jack Meyer, Nederlander's vice president of programming, noting that the Arizona Opera and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra call the Music Hall home. "We are closer to students and faculty, and there's some real opportunities to grow our audiences."
Fueling the decision to move from the 2,289-seat Music Hall was the TCC's history of double-booking, which led to last-minute scrambling and the threat of losses for Nederlander, said Broadway in Tucson's general manager, Lendra Kearns.
The musical "Cats" was scheduled at the same time as another Music Hall event in 2007; that happened twice with "Spring Awakening" before a time slot was found for it 2011; the Ten Tenors concert in 2009 was also double-booked.
When two events are scheduled at the same time and in the same venue, Nederlander stands to lose the money it is obligated to pay to a touring company for the scheduled Tucson stop. The Ten Tenors concert was moved to the Fox Tucson Theatre, and Nederlander was able to book the other shows into theaters outside of Tucson, so it did not incur the losses it would have had they canceled.
TCC's former deputy director, Tommy Obermaier, was put on administrative leave in August; he was fired in January when an investigation revealed that the practice of double-booking had been going on for several years.
The final factor in the decision was a staff that is not well-versed in mounting a production.
"The same person (at the TCC) might be advancing a car show in the arena and a banquet in another room," says Kearns.
"By nature, they are generalists."
At Centennial, a production staff is dedicated to stage productions and is experienced in all aspects of mounting a theatrical show.
At the Music Hall, Kearns would end up doing many jobs that a well-oiled production staff would normally handle.
"When shows come into town, they have needs," she explains. "They might need dry ice, or fire extinguishers that need to be filled, or in the case of Blue Man Group (appearing this coming week), lots of bananas.
"The Convention Center functions as a center, which is different than a theater that functions as a theater."
When Broadway in Tucson staged "Wicked" at Centennial Hall two years ago, Kearns got a taste of what she was missing.
"The Centennial staff is phenomenal," she says. "They have an incredible production department; the operation side is very strong. … Just having a production staff that's fully committed to the venue means that things will go a lot more smoothly."
TCC will suffer
The loss is a big one for the TCC, said Interim Director Mark Timpf.
"It has a significant financial impact on the Music Hall," says Timpf. "There's the rental of the hall, parking and some of the other things that we get out of each production."
According to TCC records, Nederlander paid out close to $266,000 for the use of the Music Hall last year. That includes a percentage of merchandise profits, rent, the facility fee and parking. It also includes a little more than $33,511 in taxes.
Timpf says the TCC has had conversations with possible replacement events, but that nothing is settled.
He says there was an effort to salvage Nederlander's business.
"We've made some significant improvements. We were determined to become responsive to Broadway in Tucson. We've had a good working relationship with them."
UAPresents will benefit
Broadway in Tucson and UApresents, which calls Centennial home, were in competition for Broadway road shows when the Nederlander company first settled in the Old Pueblo. But Broadway musicals are now a rare event for UApresents.
With this new arrangement, Nederlander is helping UApresents' bottom line. At the 2,500-seat Centennial, the price will be close to $5,000 a day plus a $4 per ticket facility fee, says Chuck Tennes, executive director of UApresents. On top of that, Nederlander will reimburse UApresents for expenses incurred, such as personnel.
"It's a well-controlled rental income that helps to support our other programs," says Tennes.
He is quick to add that the agreement with Nederlander does not mean diminished programming, and UApresents will have priority when booking events in the hall.
UApresents has not yet announced its 2013-14 season but, as in the past, it plans to stage some events at other venues, such as the Fox Tucson Theatre and Crowder Hall on the UA campus.
Classes are held at Centennial, but the UA administration has agreed to be flexible with that, rescheduling classes as necessary for up to two weeks a semester, says Tennes.
Nederlander rented Centennial for its three-week run of "Wicked" in 2011, and this year the Carol Burnett show was at Centennial.
"It's been a real collaborative situation," says Nederlander's Meyer.
There are distinct disadvantages to moving to Centennial Hall.
Parking in the UA area is often tight. The acoustics at Centennial, especially for big-sound musicals, is fuzzy. And the seat configuration at Centennial - many seats are lined up behind one another rather than staggered, as they are at the Music Hall - means some faulty sightlines.
Tennes doesn't anticipate that parking will be an issue - the Tyndall garage on North Tyndall Avenue near East University Boulevard has 1,675 parking spaces, and a shuttle takes Centennial Hall visitors back and forth on show nights. The Main Gate garage, at North Euclid Avenue and East Second Street, has 1,080 spaces.
And Kearns takes issue with Centennial's sound quality reputation.
"They've upgraded the sound system," she says. "I have yet to be at an event there where sound has been an issue."
Kearns has sat in close to 700 seats in Centennial, checking sightlines to the stage.
"The lack of staggered seats is one of the disadvantages," she acknowledges. "But the presence of aisles (there are none at the Music Hall) is a miracle."
On StarNet: Check out theater events coming up along with anything else happening in Tucson at dailystarcalendar.com
THE 2013-14 SCHEDULE
Broadway in Tucson's 2013-14 season - its first as a resident at Centennial Hall on the University of Arizona campus - includes a new Andrew Lloyd Webber production, a show based on the old "I Love Lucy Shows," and a couple of Tony winners.
• "Sister Act" - Oct. 8-13. Musical based on the movie.
• "The Australian Bee Gees Show" - Jan. 28-Feb. 2. A tribute to the group.
• Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Wizard of Oz" - Feb. 25-March 2.
• "I Love Lucy: Live on Stage" - March 25-30. A re-creation of the live TV show, commercials included.
• "Jersey Boys" - June 17-22. The Tony Award winner is about the group The Four Seasons.
The following are not part of the season subscription:
• "Green Day's American Idiot" - Dec. 7-8. The Tony-winner is a co-production with UApresents.
• "Mamma Mia!" - Dec. 27-29. The musical based on ABBA's greatest hits returns.
Tickets for the full season are $105-$358; partial season-ticket packages are available as well. Reservations and information at www.broadwayintucson.com or 1-866-821-2929
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at email@example.com or 573-4128.