Jan 17, 2023 - Things to Do

How Des Moines gets first picks of Broadway shows

SIX cast

The North American Tour Boleyn Company of "SIX." Photo: Joan Marcus/Courtesy of Des Moines Performing Arts

Despite being a mid-size city, Des Moines often draws coveted "first-run" tours of hit Broadway shows like "Hamilton" and the upcoming "SIX" and "Beetlejuice" — prompting eager theater-goers from nearby states to come to the Civic Center.

  • The process to get them here involves a lot of behind-the-scenes work and many flights for Jeff Chelesvig, president and CEO of Des Moines Performing Arts.

How it works: About every month, Chelesvig travels to New York to see shows as they open and determine which ones have the potential for longevity.

  • If it's a promising show, he may financially invest in it, which helps Des Moines get first dibs when it's on tour.

Between the lines: Other factors that help bookings are The Civic Center's large seating capacity (2,700 seats, which is 800 more than the largest Broadway theater) and 13,000 season ticket holders.

  • Des Moines is also a natural stop when tours travel from the East coast to the West. The cost to operate here is cheaper than in larger cities, Chelesvig said.

The intrigue: Chelesvig said the theater-going audience in Des Moines is smart and well-traveled, so when he's picking shows, he's never shied away from edgier ones like "Spring Awakening."

  • Though family-friendly shows like "The Lion King" are coming up, he said he keeps in mind that his core audience is adults

The bottom line: In 2023 his biggest competitor isn't other theater productions: "It's Netflix," he said.

  • Getting people to be willing to leave their homes and spend money on live productions will always be the group’s biggest challenge, he said.
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