The neon lights aren't shining so bright on Broadway these days. The nation's premiere theater market is in decline, a new study says--plagued by half-empty houses, soaring production costs, and too many (cheaper) entertainment alternatives.

"If the issues are not addressed, I am convinced Broadway will dwindle to five or 10 theaters filled with musicals," Patrick Graham, of the consulting firm Bain & Co., told the New York Times.

Bain & Co. put together the bleak Broadway forcecast--a study commissioned by a coalition of theater owners, producers and stage unions.

The numbers weren't good: It not only costs $75 to see a typical Broadway musical; it costs a whopping 350 to 400 percent more to make one of those shows than it did 30 years ago. (The price you pay for landing a helicopter before the final curtain, à la Miss Saigon.)

Overall, Broadway's far from bust--propped up by long-running tourist traps, such as Cats and Grease! But if the New York theater scene ever again wants to be about more than actors in press-on whiskers crawling around a giant garbage set-piece, it's got trouble.

Creatively, the Great White Way is feeling the pinch, the study said, as the best and brightest in writing, directing and performing defect to more lucrative TV and film work.

"We're not going out of business tomorrow," said Jack Goldstein, leader of the Broadway Initiative Working Group, the organization that ordered the report. "But if the problems...are not addressed, the theater industry will be severely depleted."

In its heyday, in the 1920s, Broadway meant 80 theaters burning through 200 productions in a single season. Today, faced with competition from TV and film to the Internet and video games, it means 35 theaters scrounging up 30 productions.

The "fabulous invalid"--a nickname impatient investors called Broadway even in its go-go days--has become a victim of its most famous invention--the American musical. Shows with elaborate show-stoppers (or ocean liners, in the case of Titanic) overtook plays with dialogue. Audiences (particularly out-of-towners) eat up musicals, but they're expensive and risky.

Broadway can turn the tide, the study said, but it's going to take work: More new plays, more accessible tickets, more audience recruitment.

If the alternative is all Cats, all the time, those remedies might be worth a shot.

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