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Broadway revival of 'The Odd Couple' a near-sellout

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Sep. 28--A Broadway revival of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" doesn't officially open for a month, but don't expect a wide choice of seats -- the 26-week engagement is virtually sold out.

Advance sales for the play, which reunites actors Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick of "The Producers" fame, total more than $20 million -- insuring investors a big payday.

"It's like a perfect storm," said Bill Evans, the play's publicist, citing the pairing of the two stars again on stage, the popular classic comedy, and the director Joe Mantello, who directed "Wicked" and "Assassins."

"It's incredible," he said of the box office bonanza.

But it's only the continuation of what has been a heady few months on Broadway.

In fact, the first third of the 2005-06 season has been worthy of a standing ovation. For the 17 weeks ending Sunday, attendance was 3.8 million, up 6 percent from a comparable period a year earlier.

Gross ticket sales rang in at $261.4 million, nearly 10 percent higher than the previous season, although some of that growth is due to higher prices.

Tourists flocked to Manhattan during the summer and the primary reason leisure travelers give for visiting is the city's arts and culture, noted Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers. "So if the tourists are coming," he said, "Broadway sells tickets."

The city estimated that 12 million travelers would visit New York City between Memorial Day and Labor Day -- 4 percent higher than 2004.

The fall season has been slightly ahead of last year's but not as robust as the summer months because tourism numbers have fallen, Bernstein said. Thirteen shows are scheduled to open by year's end, about the same as last year.

Most tickets for "The Odd Couple" -- which range from $60 to $250 -- are long gone. Some premium orchestra seats remain for Wednesday matinees in February and March, as well as $100 partial-view seats on various days, according to a representative at the box office.

Other tickets are available through special promotions and packages, scalpers and eBay. On last week, theatergoers could have bought two "Odd Couple" seats for the grand price of $2,023, which includes two nights in a standard room at the Hilton New York.

However, a bargain can still be had. At 10 a.m. on the day of every performance, 12 standing-room-only tickets will be offered at the theater for $25 each, Evans said.

This "Odd Couple" is the second Broadway revival of the original play, which debuted on March 10, 1965, with the late Walter Matthau as messy roommate Oscar Madison (Lane in the new production) and the late Art Carney as neatnik Felix Unger (to be played by Broderick). It played for 966 performances.

A version with actresses in the lead roles was staged in 1985, starring Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers. It lasted for 295 performances.

Other plays opening this fall include Richard Greenberg's "A Naked Girl on the Appian Way," starring Jill Clayburgh and Richard Thomas, and "Souvenir" with Judy Kaye. Revivals include Eugene O'Neill's "A Touch of the Poet," making its fourth appearance on the Great White Way, this time starring Gabriel Byrne; Edward Albee's "Seascape," and "Sweeney Todd" with Patti LuPone.

Upcoming musicals include Chita Rivera in "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life;" "Woman in White," with a score by Andrew Lloyd Weber; "The Color Purple," which has Oprah Winfrey as a backer and producer; and "Jersey Boys," about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

One-third of the 24 shows lighting up Broadway last week played to houses that were more than 90 percent full. The popular shows were "Avenue Q," "Chicago," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "Doubt," "Mamma Mia!," "Spamalot," "The Lion King" and "Wicked."


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