Feb. 22--The nearly 9,000 subscribers to Orlando'sBroadway shows are watching their P's and Q's and counting their 1-2-3's as they determine where they will be sitting in the new downtown Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
That's because a recent mailing seemed to say that season-ticket holders would be assigned seats dramatically farther from the stage -- in some cases moving from Row A to N, or G to R.
But officials say all's not what it seems, and many theatergoers will actually have closer seats in the center's state-of-the-art Walt Disney Theater. Later this year that venue will become home to the touring Broadway series, presented at Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre since 1976.
"It's so much better than they think it is," said Ron Legler, president of Florida Theatrical Association, which will co-present the series. "We're very confident they're going to be thrilled."
The Disney Theater's 2,700 seats will be staggered, Legler said. And the floor in some areas is steeper than the Bob Carr's to eliminate the theatergoer's nightmare of someone's head blocking the view.
Much of the subscriber confusion stems from the new row-lettering system. In the Bob Carr, depending on the show, there can be 14 rows labeled with double and triple letters before arriving at Row A. In the Disney Theater, there's a maximum of four rows in front of A.
Complicating matters is that the Disney Theater will have fewer seats in many rows because there will be more aisles than in the Carr. And the Disney has two raised seating levels, a mezzanine and an upper balcony; the Carr has a single balcony.
"It's understandable there's confusion," said Legler, who will leave his post for a position in Baltimore this spring.
The Disney Theater's dimensions demonstrate how theatergoers could get a better view. The front row of the Disney balcony is much closer to the stage than the equivalent row in the Bob Carr. The last row of the Disney ground level is also closer than the same section's back row in the Carr.
The difference comes from the Disney Theater's three-level, shallower design, similar to many Broadway venues.
The ticket-holder mailing contained a seating chart. Still, it was jarring for some longtime patrons to find they would have a new "address" in the Disney theater.
"We did get a lot of calls when the letters went out," Legler said. "We'll have to educate them."
Subscriber Patty Duffy was caught off-guard when she learned her new seats came with an unexpected price increase as well. The Winter Park resident said she tried to call Florida Theatrical many times -- but the lines were jammed.
"It was a nightmare," she said.
The increase resulted from her new seats falling into a higher price zone, a situation that will affect only a small percentage of subscribers, Legler said. In general, theaters charge more money for seats closer to the stage.
The mailing addressed only seats, not prices, Legler said, and was designed to simply orient theatergoers to the new venue.
"We wanted to first give people the best seats we could offer," Legler said. "But we know Orlando is very price-sensitive. If there's a problem, we'll move them. We're not holding anyone hostage."
Florida Theatrical is planning a fall open house at the Disney Theater at which ticketholders can "test-drive" their seats, Legler said. As in past seasons, subscribers will be able to change their seats or cancel their subscriptions once the season's shows are announced in mid-March.
Duffy already has been reseated, and despite the confusion, she said, she's still excited about seeing Broadway shows in the new theater.
"I'll never give up on them," she said. "I just really enjoy them."
--The last row of seats in the Bob Carr balcony is about 131 feet from the stage. In the Disney Theater, the last balcony row is 4 feet closer -- even though the balcony is one level higher.
--In the Bob Carr, Row A is a maximum of 15 rows from the stage; in the Disney Theater it is only 5 rows back.
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