Broadway Takes $29M As Fall Creeps In; ‘Slave Play’, Mary-Louise Parker, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hip Hop Improv Arrive

'Slave Play' marquee Broadway World/Shutterstock

A raft of newcomers and previewers on Broadway’s box office roster kept the industry tally afloat last week, with a total of 29 productions reporting a combined weekly gross of $29,092,571. That’s a 12% jump over the previous week, with total attendance rising a commensurate 13% to 253,685.

The figure loses a bit of sparkle, though, when the roster count is considered – the 29 shows were four more than the previous week’s 25. Most of the newcomers just haven’t caught fire yet, nearly all of the buzzed-about previewers, from The Great Society to Slave Play, grossing well below their potentials.

But keep in mind, with the exception of Freestyle Love Supreme at the Booth, all of the newcomers are non-musicals; no one’s expecting Hadestown welcomes. So on that note, and in order of opening nights:

‘Derren Brown: Secret’ Matthew Murphy
  • Derren Brown: Secret, the ecstatically reviewed evening of illusion and trickery, opened at the Cort Theatre last night, so its week was heavy on press comps and opening night freebies. Total attendance of 6,725 (for six performances) was 94% of capacity, but a very low average ticket price of $38 kept the $258,349 box office at 31% of potential. Unlike in his native U.K., Brown doesn’t have a huge built-in audience stateside, so today’s across-the-board raves should prove crucial in reading the future;
  • The Height of the Storm, the acclaimed West End production starring multiple Olivier Award winners Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins, arrived at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Sept. 10. The not-for-profit MTC’s subscription-heavy presentation – Christopher Hampton translated Florian Zeller’s play about the unraveling of a 50-year marriage – took in $284,161, about 45% of potential with, no doubt, plenty of subscribers paying significantly less than top price. About 83% of seats were filled. Opening night: Sept. 24;
‘The Great Society’ cast portrait Polk & Co.
  • The Great Society, Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to the lauded Lyndon B. Johnson bio-drama All The Way that won Bryan Cranston a 2014 Tony, continued previews at the non-profit Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, with Brian Cox as LBJ this time around. Subs kept the average ticket price at a bargain $70, the $413,430 tally at 35% of potential with 70% of seats filled. Opening night is Oct. 1;
  • Freestyle Love Supreme, the improvised hip-hop revue with a Hamilton pedigree, arrived at the Booth Theatre Sept. 13 following last year’s sold-out Off Broadway run. Created in 2004 by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail and Anthony Veneziale, the ever-shifting musical grossed a very promising $392,121, 83% of potential for the four previews, with attendance at 89% of capacity. Average ticket price was a strong $144. Opening night is Oct. 2;
  • Slave Play, likely the most talked- and written-about play of the new bunch, began previews at the Golden Theatre, carrying heavy buzz from last fall’s sold-out Off Broadway run at the New York Theatre Workshop. Written by Jeremy O. Harris, directed by Robert O’Hara and featuring a stars-in-the-making cast, the self-described “antebellum fever-dream” is certainly the most unconventional and provocative play to hit Broadway since last season’s Gary: A Sequel To Titus Andronicus, though Slave isn’t likely to divide critics to anywhere near the same degree. The NYTW production scored accolades and made many a year-end Top 10 list. Whether audiences take to the unsparing satire on race, gender, power and privilege – among other things, America’s history of slavery is mined for sexual fantasy – is one of Broadway’s hotter questions of the moment. A recent New York Post article claimed the $3.5 million production could “lose a substantial amount of money during previews.” The first six-performance week of previews at the very least can boast near SRO houses: With attendance of 4,690, Slave Play was at 99% of the Golden’s capacity, while a low  average ticket price of $65 put the week’s gross at $306,668, less than half of potential. A spokesman for the show says daily wraps have increased to about $100,000 since previews began Sept. 10, a trajectory that, if continued, could quiet the naysaying. And if boldface names do anything to get the word out, Slave Play must be more than happy with first-week audiences that included Rihanna, Zendaya, Timothee Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Kate McKinnon, Gus Van Sant and Westworld‘s Tessa Thompson. Opening night is Oct. 6;
  • The Sound Inside, a psychological thriller (and playwright Adam Rapp’s Broadway debut) starring Mary-Louise Parker and directed by David Cromer played two previews at Studio 54, grossing $152,426, about 58% of potential, with houses 91% filled. The first performance was Sept. 14 with opening night set for Oct. 17.

In all, the week’s sell-outs (or near enough at 98% of capacity or more) were Ain’t Too Proud, Beautiful, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Hadestown, Hamilton, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Moulin Rouge!, Slave Play, The Book of Mormon, To Kill A Mockingbird and Waitress. Sea Wall/A Life and Wicked came within a whisper of the cut-off point.

Season to date, Broadway has grossed $520,405,790, down about 10% year to year. Total attendance to date is 4,303,458, off about 3% from last season at this time.

All figures courtesy of the trade group Broadway League.

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