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B.O. sesh sours B’way’s sweet dream

'Hairspray,' 'Lion King,' 'Chicago' sell out despite slump

Spring-break tourists buoyed Broadway’s box office during the initial days of the war. B.O. actually increased a surprising 3.25% that first week. So much for false hope.

With all those theatergoers back in school, Broadway suffered a delayed reaction last week, with an even more severe decrease in receipts than predicted for the current session. The new discount-ticket program “Greetings From Broadway” might help. But then daylights-savings time kicks in April 6, and all that clock-forwarding has a way of deflating the box office. As for last week’s depressed receipts, Broadway pulled in $12,571,947 for 27 shows, down 2.79%, or $360,315, from the previous session. That compares unfavorably with the $14.02 million and $14.25 million recorded this time frame in 2001 and 2000, respectively. Easter 2002 came on March 31, sending box office into a holiday orbit of $15.16 million a year ago.

One more sign of poor industry health: The total tally of Broadway shows is down at least six for this time of year.

Despite the overall slump, three productions last week managed to sell out: “Hairspray” ($985,235), “The Lion King” ($1,082,361) and, basking in the movie’s Oscar win, “Chicago” ($523,970).

There was also one big splurge. Unsurprisingly, “Nine” ($560,074), starring Antonio Banderas, jumped $203,854 thanks to a full slate of eight previews after the previous week’s four.

A few shows managed marginal four-figure upticks: “Joe Egg” ($211,403), “The Play What I Wrote” ($158,910), “Def Poetry Jam” ($108,821), “Say Goodnight Gracie” ($92,168) and, in its penultimate week, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” ($193,074).

Under the top 10, the biggest drops were felt by Disney’s “Aida” ($515,427) and “Beauty and the Beast” ($460,881), with each off about $72,000. “Man of La Mancha” ($428,068) followed with a $66,080 plunge. “The Phantom of the Opera” ($541,892) saw a more modest dip of $30,103. Elsewhere, tuners took very minor hits: “Cabaret” ($345,170), “Rent” ($343,424), “Urinetown” ($288,583) and the suddenly resuscitated “Urban Cowboy” ($159,305).

Call it coincidence, but three new plays each fell about $17,000: In its final week of previews, “Life (x) 3” ($255,519) had the excuse of all those press comps. “Vincent in Brixton” ($179,407) registered its first B.O. decline since it began performances in February. “Take Me Out” ($161,086), however, clearly needs that Pulitzer Prize come April 7.

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