Winter chills: Empty seats at empty fables

NEW YORK — With New York blasted by 15 winter storms and counting since December, no one’s surprised that business on Broadway has been about as bad as it gets. Raising eyebrows, though, is the tenacity of the Broadway lineup: This winter, bad reviews killed more productions than bad weather. So far.

The roster for Thanksgiving week (Nov. 22-28) included 25 productions; 16 were still on the boards when March blew in, a 36% drop. But a quick perusal of the list indicates that the departers were either negatively reviewed flops (“The Kentucky Cycle,””The Red Shoes,””Any Given Day,””Mixed Emotions”) or limited runs (“Gray’s Anatomy,””A Grand Night for Singing”).

Granted, the spate of pre-January closings, particularly in the cases of “Cycle” and “Shoes,” almost certainly was boosted by a fear of the coming winter chill.

But even though the early thinning out left the lineup in scrappy winter form , nearly every production has been hard hit by the weather. Even such perennials as “Les Miserables,””Miss Saigon” and “The Phantom of the Opera” have seen walk-up business (generally accounting for as much as 10 to 15% of ticket sales) virtually evaporate. And those are the lucky shows: While receipts and attendance for that trio have dropped to surprising lows, the figures remain comfortably in the profit zone.

“Cats” might not be so lucky. Receipts for the long-running tuner were down to $ 276,886 during the last week of February, far short of its $ 660,231 potential. And even that B.O. total was higher than the $ 212,983 taken during February’s first week or the second week’s $ 243,755.

“No one ever thought ‘Cats’ would drop below $ 300,000,” says one insider, reflecting the surprise that has fueled a rumor that the feline musical, occupant of the Winter Garden Theater since 1982, would be heading to kitty heaven by spring.

Shubert scoffs

“Nonsense,” says Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization. He scotched speculation that “Cats”– or any of the other seven productions currently in Shubert houses — would fall victim to the winter siege.

Even a source at a rival theater chain says the rumor rings false: “You don’t close a show that’s been successful all these years just because of a few losing weeks,” he said.

Box office has been considerably chillier for “Cyrano, the Musical.” Weekly receipts have varied widely since the Dutch import opened last November, with figures ranging from the $ 150,000 neighborhood to $ 300,000-plus.

But the final week of February hit a low of $ 116,989 (potential: $ 471,363). Producer Joop van den Ende has indicated that he’ll keep the show running on the hope that Tony Award nominations boost biz. General manager Peter T. Kulok didn’t return calls.

‘Laughter’ less raucous

Other productions embattled but riding out the winter storm are “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” (hitting a low $ 167,488 by February’s end), “She Loves Me” and “The Sisters Rosensweig.” Latter production slipped from its previous hot-ticket status to attendance levels of below 60% capacity by February’s end.

“Blood Brothers” producer Bill Kenwright isn’t loosening his grip either. Recent weeks have been hard on the Brit tuner, with receipts dropping as low as $ 148,436 (of a potential $ 468,062) for the week ending Feb. 13; the month ended with a week’s net of $ 170,661.

The production had been operating with a breakeven of $ 250,000, and although it, like others on the roster, has done some winter belt-tightening, the recent receipts clearly necessitate dipping into the reserve well.

Nothing personal

General manager Stuart Thompson said producer Kenwright won’t pull the plug, believing receipts will rebound to pre-winter levels. “Blood Brothers,” Thompson said, “doesn’t take the weather personally.”

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