“Book of Mormon” scalpers: Score one for live theater

“The Book of Mormon” Broadway cast, 2011. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

By John Moore

With the sold-out Denver launch of the first “Book of Mormon” tour just a week away, an uncommon spotlight is shining on our often-ignored local theater community. Everyone, it seems, wants in. And buyers are being asked by scalpers to pay upward of $1,700 a ticket for the hands-down funniest new Broadway musical in decades. Kind of makes the $125 face value seem reasonable by comparison.

Yes, scalping is awful, illegal, crass opportunism. But, in this one instance, can’t we also just concede that … it’s kind of cool as well?

For once, live theater is a tough ticket. Let me repeat that … Live theater is a tough ticket. When do we ever get to say that? It’s amazing what a few maggots in your scrotum can do for a vastly under-appreciated art form. And yes, here I am both quoting “The Book of Mormon” and describing ticket scalpers, all at once.

After years of witnessing brilliant theater played before houses of eight, I’m not going to get too upset that the people of the greater outside world, the kind who would normally never be caught dead at anything more intellectually challenging than, say, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” are willing to be absolutely fleeced for the opportunity to get into the must-see event of the summer.

Score one for live theater.

First off, the people who are actually shelling out $1,700 for a ticket now are only doing so because they can. And because they probably weren’t paying attention back in January, when 51,000 seats moved in less than five hours. And they would have gone much more quickly had consumer demand not overwhelmed the Denver Center’s ticket-selling software. Yes, people got upset, but seriously, how often does any live theater have a ticket sale that’s the equivalent of U2 playing at Mile High Stadium?

I won’t go off again here on my rant that the “Mormon” producers should have awarded Denver far more than just a three-week launch run, but they righted the wrong last week when they announced “Mormon” will return to Denver for an as-yet unspecified return in October 2013. It typically takes three or more years for any new tour to return to a city it has already visited, and next time, the show will move from the Ellie Caulkins Opera House to the larger Buell Theatre. That in itself is no great prize, but in this case, it will mean 600 more available seats for every performance.

But back to now. The 51,000 who scored “Mormon” tickets are, for the most part, musical theater diehards who earned it. Them, and, yes, probably several dozen maggot brokers. But Denver Center president Randy Weeks had preventative measures in place that helped minimize the infestation.

After the sale ended, his staff pored through every successful buyer’s order, checking for irregular consistencies in names, zip codes and addresses. One repeat buyer was discovered in New Jersey using the same address, but with slightly different apartment numbers, like 4A, 4A1, 4A2, etc. It was clear this was a broker who had managed to score about 200 tickets, when the maximum per buyer was six.  “In effect, we unsold the tickets,” said Weeks. In all, about 500 ill-gotten tickets were rescinded that way.

“I think we did quite well,” said Weeks, “But the fact is, in today’s world, any kid with an internet connection and a credit card can become a secondary ticket broker.” That’s his nice way of saying “scalper.”

The Denver Center also suspended the “print at home” ticket option for the “Mormon” sale only. That was to cut down on the most insidious kind of ticket fraud – where a buyer gets access to legitimate tickets and simply prints them out hundreds if not thousands of times, then sells them on the internet to unsuspecting buyers who have no idea they are buying duplicates that will be rejected at the lobby door.

“The real danger is that there are people out there who are selling tickets that don’t even exist,” Weeks said. “Let me emphasize that we are the only authorized ticket seller for our productions.”

Anyone buying off e-bay, craigslist or any other web site through a broker or scalper runs the risk of being fleeced. And there is nothing the Denver Center can do to protect them.

And because technologies will always improve, for the good guys and bad, Weeks said, “this is a conversation that will continue to evolve.”

“Mormon” opens Aug. 14 and runs through Sept. 2. All successful “Mormon” ticket purchasers should have received their actual tickets through the mail at their homes several months ago. If you have not, you should contact the Denver Center immediately to have your original tickets invalidated and new versions issued that can either be mailed to you or left at will call. If this describes you, call 303-893-4100.

 

This just in: 

The tour launch will make 24 tickets available for all performances through a daily lottery, it was announced today (Tuesday, Aug. 7). For the winners, tickets will cost $25 each.  For the losers, tears are free.

 

Follow “The Book of Mormon” on Twitter

Was Casa Bonita ready for “The Book of Mormon”?

Dozens of “Mormon” cast and crew have descended on Denver, and they brought their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts with them in preparation for the Aug. 14 opening night at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. To follow all cast members with one click, just subscribe to this Twitter list I created called “Book of Mormon Tour.” The actors are providing fans all kinds of fun insights, including photos and videos they are taking backstage and all around our fair town, like the one on the right. (Saturday night was a company field trip to the kitschy theme-park restaurant Casa Bonita, which inspired an episode of “South Park” by the “Mormon” creators.)

 

While we’re at it …

Take a minute to revisit my blog item on the “South Park” episode titled, “The Broadway Bro-Down” — surely the funniest, most profane 30 minutes dedicated to the subject of musical theater in television history.

And yes,  you can watch the complete episode by clicking here.