Broadway Box Office Steady As Dramas Demand Attention

Joan Marcus

Spring’s seedling musicals are starting to peep through the winter spoil — Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star has begun previews at the Cort, She Loves Me is closing in on its March 17 opening at the Roundabout’s Studio 54, and Disaster! opened this week at the Nederlander. But it’s the serious dramas that are setting the early tenor in a season atypically packed with new plays and revivals that are anything but light fare. The critics are responding with huzzahs, and the audiences are as well — at least in some cases.

The Broadway box office held even last week, with two acclaimed new dramatic entries drawing very different responses. Stephen Karam’s The Humans, a transfer from the Roundabout, looks to be building an audience at the Second Stage’s new Broadway venue, the Helen Hayes (look for a name change there when the right Ms. or Mr. Deepockets comes up with the dough). The dramedy took in$355K at the Street’s smaller house, 65 percent of its gross potential, and up $10.7K from the week before, good signs all.

Frank Wood, Forest WhitakerGood reviews couldn’t help Hughie, nor could the above-the-title beckoning by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker making his Broadway debut in the revival of Eugene O’Neill’s gloomy, brief two-hander. Ticket buyers weren’t biting — it might have been the prices asked for an hour’s downer, but since discounts were available, more likely it was indifferent to poor word of mouth that led to the announcement just a few days after opening that the run would be cut short by three months.

So we’ll see how Eclipsed, which opened Sunday to rapturous notices for both the play and Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, fares in that regard. Like The Humans, it has plenty of humor to carbonate its grim subject (sexual slavery in civil war-torn Liberia). But even in previews, it was near SRO at the Shubert Organization’s Golden Theatre, on heavily discounted tickets (average ticket brought in $56.35). Still to come in the serious section of the Broadway buffet: Blackbird, The Crucible, The Father and Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Total Broadway sales for Week 41 of the 2015-16 season were $20.7 million, a 3 percent boost over Week 40 and a nice 13 percent jump over the same week last year, according to figures released by the trade group Broadway League.

Finding Neverland, at the Nederlander Organization’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, had the biggest improvement, up $187K over the week before. Several musicals, some with onerous running costs, are looking perilously close to break-even, if that: Kinky Boots ($661.4K at Jujamcyn Theatres’ Al Hirschfeld), Matilda ($546.3 at the Shubert), Something Rotten! ($632.8 at Jujamcyn’s St. James), The King and I ($470K at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont) and The Phantom of the Opera ($552K, not that it matters, at the Shuberts’ Majestic).

Hamilton continues to own the street these days with the highest gross ($1.76 million at the Nederlanders’ Richard Rodgers) and the top average ticket price ($164.28).

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