The End Is Near As Broadway Box Office Dips, Ticket Prices Too

With one week left in the 2015-2016 Broadway season, the box office is telling a different story than the one on the marquees. Outside the theaters, there’s plenty of excitement as ticket buyers clamor for entry to the most ambitious range of shows in memory, offering the electricity of revolution (Hamilton, Shuffle Along Etc., Eclipsed), the mirrored dramas of human despair and triumph (The Color Purple, The Father, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Blackbird, On Your Feet!), the  reassuring universality of a tale well and lovingly told (Waitress, Bright Star). And those are just some of the new shows around town.

Inside the theater managers’ offices, on the other hand, it’s a good deal quieter (except at the Richard Rodgers, where Hamilton has become a phenomenon unto itself, sui generis). Notwithstanding all the buzz — the Tony and other awards nominations, the cast appearances on late-night and early-morning TV shows and the ramped-up placement of TV spots and print display ads — the year-on-year numbers are looking flat, to be generous, even a bit weak. Attendance was down 2.7% from the same week last season and 4.4% from last week. Average ticket prices were down 4% — great if you’re a customer, not so great if you’re an investor.

Of course these are all averages, and like Broadway shows themselves, every box office tells a different story. Hamilton, for example, tumbled 8% last week at the Nederlander Organization’s Richard Rodgers, dropping $147.3K from the week before to $1.69 million. Uh oh, you might think. Nah, it just means that the musical took on a mere 26.3% more than its alleged box office potential of $1.33 million; that figure is more typically in the 30th percentiles.

Two shows absorbed big hits for planned hiatuses: The Ambassador Group’s Lyric shut down previews of Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour after four performances as Univision took over the house for Upfronts and tinkering (though no rehearsals) before resuming in the run-up to its May 25 opening. ESPN rented the Nederlanders’ Minskoff for its Upfront presentation tomorrow morning, canceling a performance of Disney’s The Lion King.

Bright Star, the Steve Martin-Edie Brickell show at the Shubert Organization’s Cort Theatre, is looking slow but steady in building an audience; the bluegrass musical gained $60.7K last week, reaching $447K and 52.3% of potential with houses more than three-quarters full. Eclipsed, by contrast, despite excellent reviews and a Tony-nominated performance by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, was off $37.8K at the Shuberts’ Golden, to 37% of potential and houses 60% full.

On Your Feet!, at the Nederlanders’ Marquis and seriously underrepresented in the Tony nominations, appears to be doing just fine, thank you, up $56.6K into the $1M club and 65% of its potential. Waitress, too, gained a bit, taking in $981.3K at the Nederlanders’ Brooks Atkinson, where the houses are full and the investors are smiling: Sara Bareilless’ fine Broadway debut as songwriter is going to have a great summer.

Among the more serious players, Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines, The Humans at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes and The Father at Manhattan Theare Club’s Friedman all improved, benefitting from the confluence of Tony nominations, a consensus of great reviews and excellent word of mouth from satisfied, if seriously bummed out, customers.

Total box office for Week 51 was $26.27 million for 36 shows, according to figures released by the trade group Broadway League, down 5% from the Week 50 and 7% from the same week one year ago. The season-to-date total of $1.34 billion is up a hair’s breadth, 0.6%, over last season.

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