Bette Midler tickets top $400 for best seats at Geffen Playhouse

Want to see Bette Midler’s upcoming run at the Geffen Playhouse in her one-woman show, “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers?” It’ll cost you. The best tickets for the 19-performance stand Dec. 3-21 were going for $397 on the Geffen’s ticketing Web page Friday afternoon.

Add a $9 "Internet convenience fee” and a $2 “facility fee,” and you’ve exceeded the magic $400 per ticket mark that has prevailed for more than a decade for the best seats to the hottest shows on Broadway in New York, but never had been breached, to our knowledge, for a regular performance in L.A.

But it's Broadway wherever the Divine Miss M goes, one might say.

The cheapest tickets to the John Logan play in which Midler stars as the late Hollywood agent Mengers, were priced at $87, not counting fees. But they weren’t for sale any more, except for a smattering of spots reserved for the disabled.

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That meant you’d be on the hook for at least $227, plus fees, depending on what date you chose. Most of the remaining inventory had higher pricing points than that -- $347, $325 or $297. (The play was a hot seller during its limited run on Broadway.)

By contrast in L.A., prices ranged from $37 to $77 for the William Friedkin-directed revival of Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party” that opens at the Geffen in February. Of course, the law of supply and demand is at play here: an abbreviated run for a big star like Midler in a 498-seat theater is not going to work in the consumer's favor.

Officials at the nonprofit Geffen were not immediately available for comment Friday. The theater’s website noted that “subscription packages including a ticket to 'I’ll Eat You Last’ begin under $300.” But a call to the box office revealed that this deal was no longer available.

A while back, the sales attendant said, for $89 you could opt for “I’ll Eat You Last” as an add-on to a subscription, landing you in a part of the mezzanine that’s now priced at $297.

Contributing to this breach of the $300 and $400 barriers is a system known as “variable pricing” that's now in effect at many arts and entertainment venues. Computer software calculates how advance sales are going for each performance, relative to expectations, and the system spits out prices calculated to maximize the gross. Such hot sellers as Midler’s show can command a large mark-up, while slower-moving tickets get discounted.

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All this might seem shocking to folks who haven’t yet gotten used to the new system -- also common now for sporting events. So a growing segment of the public can be priced out of luxury goods, while money is less of an object than ever for the upper crust. Still, the nonprofit Geffen can’t be accused of charging all the market will bear.

One of the secondary-market sites we checked Friday was hawking a selection of seats for Midler’s Dec. 21 performance at more than double what tickets in similar spots were bringing if bought directly from the Geffen -- $748 each, compared to $297.

While we were window-shopping we checked out the Pantages Theatre’s website, where variable pricing is in effect. The best orchestra seats for coming runs of “The Lion King” and “The Book of Mormon” were priced at $216.95 and $210.70, respectively, not counting ticketing add-ons.

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