While recent improvements did little to directly change the attendee experience for shows at DeVos Performance Hall, they helped usher in a record-setting season for Broadway Grand Rapids.
That’s because the $350,000 in behind-the-scenes renovations approved two years ago made it possible for Broadway Grand Rapids to lure in bigger shows. The first of those larger performances, “Phantom of the Opera,” played its sold-out, 16-show run over two weeks in May.
For Mike Lloyd, executive director of Broadway Grand Rapids, the organization’s record performance is proof that the improvements were well worth the investment.
“It was a spectacular run and it showed what the magnetic power of top-notch Broadway theater can be as an attraction to the community,” Lloyd told Revue.
Ticket sales over the season rose 67 percent to 92,000, while season-ticket sales also increased 36 percent to 4,900. Those numbers were certainly boosted by the sold-out Phantom run, during which Broadway Grand Rapids sold out the 2,300-seat DeVos Performance Hall for two straight weeks, with tickets ranging from $40 to $100 each.
“(The show) broke every record in DeVos Hall for seats filled and attendance,” Lloyd said.
According to Broadway Grand Rapids, the show also had a wide reach. The organization sold tickets to people in every county of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and about half of the counties in the Upper Peninsula, Lloyd said. Ticket holders also came from out-of-state cities like Toledo, Chicago and Milwaukee, to name a few.
Janet Korn, senior vice president of Experience Grand Rapids, said the big shows impact not just the city’s theater community, but also the entire community itself.
“When people come from a farther distance, they’re more likely to stay overnight and they’re more likely to spend money in our community,” Korn said. “Their ability to help us attract tourism makes Grand Rapids a more vibrant place.”
But the show would not have been possible without the improvements to three key areas of DeVos Performance Hall — changes Broadway Grand Rapids convinced the Kent County Convention and Arena Authority would have a much broader economic impact on the greater Grand Rapids area, Lloyd said.
“(Phantom) completely changed the way shows were staged and it required a bigger stage than was built in DeVos,” Lloyd said, noting that other Broadway shows, including “The Lion King,” have similar requirements.
To accommodate the show’s larger set, DeVos Performance Hall needed to widen its stage, reinforce the ceiling and expand the entry point for sets to come through from backstage.
“The difference is much more structural than cosmetic,” Lloyd said, meaning the changes can’t really be seen from the audience.
Importantly, the new stage design has opened more doors of opportunity for Broadway Grand Rapids: The group already plans to bring in more major shows, including “Wicked” and “The Lion King.”
“There isn’t a show that can’t perform on the stage here,” Lloyd said, adding that the goal is to get at least one Phantom-level show in Grand Rapids annually. “I took on this job because I believe that Broadway Grand Rapids can be an economic engine for the community. Phantom proved that point.”
The upcoming season will open with “Cinderella” followed by “The Sound of Music,” “Motown: The Musical,” “Dirty Dancing,” “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” and “RENT.”
Pictured: Mike Lloyd, photo by Jeff Hage