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Coming soon to a theater near you: State tax incentives?

The newly restored Emerson Colonial Theatre kicked off its new era with “Moulin Rouge!”
The newly restored Emerson Colonial Theatre kicked off its new era with “Moulin Rouge!” (Bill Brett for The Boston Globe)

State lawmakers have revived an idea that has been kicking around Beacon Hill for several years: Offer state tax credits to encourage producers to debut Broadway-bound shows in Massachusetts.

House leaders tucked the measure into an economic development bill they sent to the Senate last week. This legislation would allow for up to $5 million a year in credits to subsidize theatrical productions destined for New York or national tours. The credits for qualified shows could equal 35 percent of a production’s in-state labor costs, plus 25 percent of other expenses.

Democratic Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante pushed for the amendment. She’s emboldened by what she calls a local theater renaissance, as evidenced by the national debuts of “Jagged Little Pill” at A.R.T. in Cambridge and “Moulin Rouge!” at the newly renovated Colonial Theatre in Boston.

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By allowing theaters with as few as 175 seats to participate, smaller venues such as the Gloucester Stage Company (in Ferrante’s hometown) could benefit. Ferrante also sees a spillover effect, as nearby restaurants and hotels experience an influx of theatergoers.

It’s unclear how the Senate will react, particularly with only about two weeks left in this year’s formal legislative session. The credits resemble the controversial incentives the state offers the film industry. Efforts to rein those in through annual caps and other limits have come up short. But then, lawmakers know it’s harder to take a subsidy away than to simply not offer it in the first place. Ferrante hopes the $5 million cap will make her proposal less of a jagged little pill for the tax-incentive critics to swallow.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.