At The Broadway B.O., Sales Rocket As Audience Lags In Sellers’ Market; So Long, Liz Smith


Ticket sales for Broadway productions soared last week as more shows entered the fall fray and star-powered vehicles gave even some of the big musicals a run for the money, or glory, or something. The box office gained almost 20 percent over the week before. More significant – especially for elite producers, theater owners and profit participants – the season-to-date total represented an 18 percent leap over last year, a $115 million improvement to just shy of three-quarters of a billion dollars.

So where’s the cloud beneath this silver lining? Look at the audience numbers: Last week’s attendance trailed the same week a year ago by 7 percent, while year-to year shows that big boost in dollars from last season was accompanied by just a comparatively teensy 4 percent increase in attendance. Translation: Higher prices, pumped up by marquee names in limited runs creating a scarcity economy, aren’t growing the audience. This snapshot of the industry is kinda funhouse crazy, a bubble without a plan B for the inevitable burst when a younger audience decides to stay home rather than fork over the mortgage payment to see a live show.

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For the moment, the pre-holiday season looks swell, especially with Uma Thurman (in Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman) and Amy Schumer (in Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower) joining Bette Midler and Bruce Springsteen on the gold-paved Street where we live. So good, in fact, that this week we’re going to give you two Top 5 charts, one for musicals and one for non-musicals. The mere fact that there are enough plays on Broadway at the moment to require their own visual aid is remarkable all by itself.

Seventeen of the 30 running shows were up $100K or more. Of course that included Midler’s return from a week off, bumping Hello, Dolly! by a cool $1.47 million to $2.35 million at the Shubert Theatre, where the average ticket brought $210.26. It also included a jump of $151.65K for Waitress as pop star Jason Mraz came on board the Sara Bareilles tuner at the Nederlander Organization’s Brooks Atkinson, where it rejoined the $1 million club and tickets were averaging $133.87.

Julie Taymor’s revival of M. Butterfly, starring Clive Owen, continues to improve in the face of some middling reviews; it leapt $83.58K to $661.5K at the Shuberts’ Cort, with tickets averaging $97.16. New to the preview club were SpongeBob SquarePants, at the Nederlanders’ Palace, where 85 percent of the seats were filled for seven performances, average ticket price $63.68, and a revival of that musical charmer Once On This Island, at Circle in the Square, where every seat was filled for six previews at $90.63 on average.

The five top-grossing shows were:

• Hamilton ($3.14 million at the Nederlanders’ Richard Rodgers; $292.14 average ticket)

• Springsteen on Broadway ($2.39 million at Jujamcyn Theatres’ Walter Kerr; five performances; $505.39)

• Hello, Dolly! ($2.35 million at the Shubert; $210.26)

• The Lion King ($1.91 million at the Nederlanders’ Minskoff; $140.70)

• Dear Evan Hansen ($1.68 million at the Shuberts’ Music Box; $210.31)

The five top-grossing plays were:

• Meteor Shower ($1 million at the Shuberts’ Booth; eight previews; $161.11 average ticket)

• M. Butterfly ($661.47K at at the Shuberts’ Cort; $97.16)

• Junk ($602.36K at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont; $87.07)

• The Parisian Woman ($579.8K at the Ambassador Theatre Group’s Hudson; five previews; $121.72)

The Play What Goes Wrong ($435.3K at the Shuberts’ Lyceum; $79.84)

Ticket sales for Week 25 of the 2017-2018 Broadway season totaled $32.48 million for 30 shows, a hike of $5.2 million, or 19 percent, over Week 24, according to the trade group Broadway League. Average ticket price rose to $129.49 from $121.37.

LIZ SMITH: Liz Smith, who died this weekend at 94, loved Broadway and chicken fried steak, surely in equal measure. She unabashedly cheer-led for the Texas Broadway mafia that included Tommy Tune, Preston Jones, Horton Foote, Mary Martin, Betty Buckley and other stage luminaries. Like most of us covering show business when she was at the height of her long run, there were times when I thought she hung the moon (her kudos helped push my coverage of producer-felon Garth Drabinsky to a wide audience) … and times when I wished she’d just go away (after I published the last interview with A Chorus Line legend Michael Bennett in The New York Times, she wrote that I’d “obituaried” him. I phoned to tell her I thought that was pretty tasteless considering that Bennett was dying of AIDS at the time, and she just drawled, “Honey, that was his word.” Liz was Bloomingdale’s and Zabar’s, like no other in the world.

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