By Carol-Ann Rudy The face of the theatergoer on Broadway is changing: more and more, it’s an African-American face, a Latino face, or an...

By Carol-Ann Rudy

The face of the theatergoer on Broadway is changing: more and more, it’s an African-American face, a Latino face, or an Asian face. Breaking it down, although audiences consist mainly of Caucasians, 26% of patrons were non-Caucasian, the highest ever, representing 3.18 million tickets sold of the 12.3 million in the June 2006 – June 2007 season, according to a new report by the League of American Theatres and Producers. Gender is changing too: 64% of audiences from that season were female.

And youth? The average age of the theatergoer is 41.2 years, a drop of 2%. Attracting the younger viewer can be attributed to a larger number of youth-friendly productions including Disney shows like The Little Mermaid and those attracting teens such as Rent and Spring Awakening. Selection? It appears that personal recommendation was the most important factor in influencing attendance to a particular production.

Outstanding in the numbers is the revelation that The Color Purple has attracted more African-American audiences than any other show before it, including audition performances. Those not familiar with the production, the musical is based on the novel of the same name by Alice Walker, which sold more than five million copies and ranks as one of the top five most reread books in America. The book has been adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Marsha Norman. The story covers four decades and deals with such issues as infanticide, domestic violence, racial oppression, and spiritual crises. It took producer Scott Sanders eight years to arrange the backing and put a creative team together. The result is music and a script that expresses the heart of Walker’s story and manages not to be overshadowed by Steven Spielberg’s 1985 movie adaptation in which Oprah Winfrey, who helped produce the stage version, played a lead role.

In the Heights has also succeeded in attracting Latinos to auditions in significant numbers. The musical, with a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of a tight-knit Latino community of uptown Manhattan experiencing growing pains. The production is sprinkled with hip-hop and salsa, pop power ballads, and rap riffs.