The vernal equinox brought sunshine, good cheer and the tonic ringing of cash registers (if cash registers still existed and still rang) on Broadway during Week 44 of the 2015-16 season. New shows (Waitress, Shuffle Along, Or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, American Psycho, Bright Star), opened for business, hit shows kept batting near 1.000, and — great news for producers, bad news for customers — average ticket prices leapt during the holiday week.
Every silver lining has its cloud, however, and there’s an interesting one here: Hollywood star power isn’t fueling the box office at serious shows. More than ever, it appears that Broadway customers want laughs, legs and love — and the critics can take their raves and wrap fish with ’em (as if).
Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o in the brutal Eclipsed? $318.9K at the Shubert Organization’s Golden Theatre, down $100K from the previous week and struggling at just 39% of gross potential. Emmy winner Jeff Daniels and three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams in the riveting Blackbird, at the Shuberts’ Belasco? Down $8.4K to $475.2K from the week before, or 53.7% of potential. Oscar winner Forest Whitaker in Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie at the Shuberts’ Booth? Sinking again, down $4K to $278.7, to 35 percent of potential. It’s doubtful even an exclamation point on the title would bring in the customers to these shows. Look for increasing collaborations between nonprofit theaters with long subscriber lists and Broadway producers committed to keeping such fare part of the bounty in the Broadway bazaar.
On the other hand, it was a great week for established hits and several newcomers looking to build word-of-mouth as opening day approaches. The Sarah Bareilles musical Waitress, with Tony winner Jessie Mueller, set a house record at the Nederlander Organization’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, scoring $145,532 for its first preview last Friday and ringing up $425.8K for three previews. That’s 11.4% above potential, and tickets were going on average for $134.29. The George C. Wolfe-helmed Shuffle Along etc., with six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, took in $358.8K in its abbreviated, three-performance week at the Shuberts’ Music Box, commanding an also healthy $124.21 per-ticket average. And American Psycho, Duncan Sheik’s latest, with Benjamin Walker in the title role, took in $365.2K for its first four previews at the Shuberts’ Schoenfeld, with an average ticket going for $90.04.
I bought tickets for my grandson and me to see Disney’s Aladdin, helping that show take in $2.13 million at the flagship New Amsterdam, a boost of almost $558K. (And props to Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart for slipping in a joke about Batman V Superman at the Saturday matinee, keeping it fresh after two years.) Mouse sister The Lion King also had a half-million-dollar bump ($585,700, to be precise), taking in $2.63 million at the Nederlanders’ Minskoff. Both shows got the kick from an added, ninth performance, as did Wicked, at the Nederlanders’ Gershwin, which grossed $2.53 million and had an average ticket price of $149.50. Finding Neverland re-entered the millionaire’s lair with a $184.3K uptick to $1 million at the Nederlanders’ Lunt-Fontanne. School of Rock, at the Shuberts’ Winter Garden, had a $251.1K bump to $1.3 million. The Lion King was the priciest average Broadway ticket, at $172.61.
The total Broadway box office for the week ending Sunday was $31.5 million for 34 shows, 18 percent above week 43 and 12.5 percent above the same week a year ago, according to figures released by the trade group Broadway League. The theaters were over 90% full and average paid admission across all shows was $108.01. There was absolutely nothing to report about Hamilton.