Comedian Larry Miller comes to the Broward Center May 26, bringing his brand of one-liners and just slightly offensive jokes. He'll have the largely elderly crowd chuckling somewhat regularly with lines like: "I've been thinking about global warming a lot... If it's a choice between a safe, healthy Earth and big cars, air condition, hamburger meat, and liquor, I'm afraid the Earth has got to go."
His act is more updated than the comedians of his youth, who would've ended a joke like that with a snare drum and symbol crash. But Miller's isn't so updated -- the average age of the crowd will still probably be somewhere near 60.
And that's why voters ought to question chipping in half of the $43 million for the planned expansion of the Broward Center. It's not that the performing arts center isn't a
jewel of Broward County -- it's a stunning venue with great acoustics and ideal location. But the center has a lineup that attracts only a blue-haired crowd, and until that changes, anyone who hasn't started receiving AARP the Magazine ought to question the plan.
The Broward Center has been working for about two years on an expansion to add new seating, carpeting, a club level, retractable awnings over the courtyard, and a two-story pavilion out back near the New River.
Private donors have already agreed to put in $16 million toward the expansion, and the Broward Center expects to raise $5.5 million more. The rest of the money will come from us in the form of tax money from many sources, none of which need voter approval.
Fort Lauderdale commissioners have agreed already to put in $3.8 million, and the Downtown Development Authority has promised $1 million. County commissioners may put in another $12 million. The Broward Center also wants the School Board to chip in $6 million, but the board has been reluctant in light of severe state cutbacks.
Looking at the Broward Center's lineup, it's understandable why anybody would be reluctant. Take the events scheduled for the next few weeks: the Baby Boomer-era musical Hair; an antibullying program called "Through the Red Door"; a program featuring kids as young as 3 called "Dance Dimensions"; and a screening of the Ken Burns film Prohibition. If any of those events gets you excited, chances are you're eating dinner before most people have happy hour.
Broward Center officials dispute the idea that their lineup is planned for those with blue hair. CEO Kelley Shanley pointed to the Broadway-style traveling shows like Mama Mia, which is coming in July. Nationwide, those traveling shows attract an audience that's 40 percent under the age of 50, Shanley says.
Of course, there are two ways to look at statistics, and with 60 percent over the age of 50, that means three out of every five audience members are older.
Shanley also emphasized that the Broward Center attracts concerts, including in the past year Tears for Fears, John Mellencamp, and Jackson Browne. Those aren't exactly contemporary performers, but Shanley says he can attract a larger number of younger people to shows like those as opposed to smaller and more modern acts. "We are committed to reaching those audiences," he said of young people. "We just don't want to do it at the expense of others."
That kind of thinking -- that Jackson Browne is better than, say, Vampire Weekend -- won't help win over younger voters who may be turned off by contributing to a venue they don't visit.
Bernard J. Peck is chairman of the Broward Center foundation and has been an organizing force since it opened 20 years ago. When asked why the Broward Center offers few shows geared for people under retirement age, he saw it as constructive criticism. "You have a good point," Peck said. "It's something we need to talk about."
Peck defended the need for an overhaul. At the least, the seats and mechanics of the center have become outdated, he said, and the new amenities will help the center compete with South Florida's other performance halls. He may be right, especially considering the half-billion-dollar Adrienne Arsht Center that opened in Miami five years ago.
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But before taxpayers send the Broward Center an eight-figure sum at a time when many people are struggling to pay the mortgage, we ought to ask for more from that stale lineup. Instead, the center ought to look to the Arsht Center, which this year brought in The Sparrow, a critically acclaimed play that feels more sci-fi movie than touring Broadway blockbuster. Or at the lineup of the Fillmore, a Miami Beach theater with modern-day acts, like upcoming shows by Matisyahu and Diego Torres.
Matisyahu may not be today's hottest act, but he's certainly more contemporary than Les Misérables, which first appeared on Broadway in 1906. It may be a stretch, but there's a chance someone in the Broward Center audience might've been there for that first show.