The Geffen Playhouse confirmed Monday that the $397 it’s currently charging for the best seats to Bette Midler’s upcoming one-woman show have set a house record, blowing beyond the previous pricing pinnacle of about $250.
Pricing for “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers” ranged from $87 to $325 when tickets went on sale to the general public Oct. 28, after subscribers had taken first dibs.
The subsequent 22% markup on the most expensive seats stems from “dynamic pricing,” the now-common system in which intense demand for a limited supply will drive up the cost of a play, pop concert, sporting event or airline ticket.
Add $11 in ticketing fees and the price becomes $408 -- which may be the first time a Los Angeles theater has charged more than $400 at the box office for tickets to a regular production.
Ken Novice, the Geffen’s managing director, said the magic show “Nothing to Hide,” directed by Neil Patrick Harris, commanded as much as $247 during a four-month run that ended March 31 on its second stage, the Audry Skirball Kenis Theater, which has a flexible seating capacity in the low 100s. Prices for Ricky Jay’s magic show in the same space had topped out at $250 in 2008.
The house record for L.A.’s other top nonprofit stage company, Center Theatre Group, is $240 for a few seats to “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theate in 2007. “God of Carnage” and “Les Miserables” notched a $200 pricing high on the same stage in 2011.
The for-profit Pantages Theatre reported having sold a smattering of $300 seats for “Beauty and the Beast” in 2011 when seats had grown extremely scarce near the end of its run; it wasn’t immediately clear whether that high has been exceeded by subsequent attractions such as “The Book of Mormon.”
The Geffen’s initial pricing scale for “I’ll Eat You Last” matched the price earlier this year on Broadway, Novice said. The $87 seats have all been sold, and the least expensive tickets to be had via its ticketing web page Tuesday were $227, with most of the remaining inventory priced at $397, $347 and $297.
On Broadway Midler gave 89 performances in the 783-seat Booth Theater. For the L.A. run of John Logan’s play about Mengers, a Hollywood agent who died two years ago, she’ll perform 19 times starting Dec. 3 in the 512-seat Gil Cates Theater. The 9,728 tickets available in L.A. are about one seventh the Broadway inventory.
Novice said that about 60% of the available tickets had been sold as of Monday, and that he had not yet heard any complaints about pricing. But he expects that some theater fans will be unhappy about being priced out of the show.
“I’m sure some people will be disappointed,” he said. “I wish we had a bigger theater and a longer time to run the show,” which would have permitted more moderate pricing.
In theory the sky is the limit with dynamic pricing, which is driven by special computer software and was invented so that producers and presenters could reap more of a hot ticket’s true market value before it landed with resellers.
Novice said the Geffen hasn’t set a ceiling on how high it would be willing to go on “I’ll Eat You Last,” but “we don’t want to look like one of the aftermarket sites. I don’t think it would be right for us to charge $1,000 a ticket” -- as he expects some ticket brokers will.
Some online ticket sites already are asking close to $800 per ticket for Midler’s L.A. stand. She has a way to go, however, to match the $1,708 that one online seller sought in 2007 when Ian McKellen starred in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “King Lear” at UCLA’s Royce Hall -- 19 times its $90 face price.