Broadway seems to be playing its own game of “Survivor” this summer.
Since the Tonys in the beginning of June, the roster has been on a veritable Atkins diet, shedding shows week by week. The month of June saw the disappearance of nearly 10 titles, including limited runs.
But the leaner, meaner sked has helped prime the remaining shows for greater rewards. The overall B.O. has been on a surprising upswing in June, until it hit the usual wall in the Fourth of July week and came back down to earth. And as the general B.O. has fared well, grosses have grown more zestily for some key titles.
A few of the big winners:
- “Gypsy” — The revival, while a strong seller due to both its stature in theater history and its headlining star, Bernadette Peters, hit some bumps in the early months. Peters’ illness, and some rabid and repeated attacks from New York Post columnist Michael Riedel, seemed to be keeping the show from becoming the surefire hit that might have been expected.
Box office hovered at a respectable but not stellar $650,000 of a potential $941,000 during the show’s first month or so on the boards, and when the show failed to take home a single Tony Award (it lost the key revival Tony to “Nine”), it seemed possible that it might wither in the summer heat.
But a funny thing happened to this Tony loser: It started to gain serious B.O. momentum just before and after the awards. The show’s gross climbed steadily during the month of June, rising from $756,324 during the first week of the new season to a potential-scraping $903,525 for Week 5. The show set new box office records at the Shubert Theater three weeks in a row.
What caused the resurgence?
Producer Ron Kastner credits “a combination of word of mouth and the Tony performance by Bernadette.”
Although it came home empty-handed at the awards show, Peters’ bravura performance of the finale, “Rose’s Turn,” went over very well on TV.
“We always had a fairly good advance, but we saw the numbers fill in very quickly after the Tonys. It helped to get rid of the lingering gossip, which was just a nuisance to everybody.”
Kastner adds that the show’s summer strength is due to its appeal to tourists and groups. “Our surveys indicate that a large percentage of our audience now is visitors. Since our out-of-town reviews were excellent — even better than the New York ones — that’s helped.”
- “Take Me Out” — Richard Greenberg’s comedy about a gay baseball player opened soft during the winter. Its languishing B.O. in March and April — sometimes as little as $150,000 of a potential of almost $500,000 — seemed to suggest the show might have tapped out its audience potential during a fall run at the Public Theater that was extended more than once.
But the grosses began climbing upwards as awards season got under way. With little competition in a Broadway season notable for its lack of new plays, “Take Me Out” took home virtually every award it could: from the Drama Desk to the New York Drama Critics’ Circle to the all-important Tony for new play.
With that key win under its belt — and little competition to speak of — the show finally began showing some star power at the box office. Like “Gypsy,” it made five-figure gains at the B.O. every week in June. It rose from $186,792 during the first week of the new season, the week before the June 8 Tony Awards, to $336,301 during the last week of June. Its attendance has risen from 60% of capacity — and sometimes less — to around 80%.
- “Nine” — The Antonio Banderas starrer has been a solid draw from the get-go, but it is now poised to become a potential money-spinner for the Roundabout Theater Co.
The production has been playing to SRO houses for most of June, earning weekly grosses around — and often a little above — its potential of $644,559. But during the Fourth of July week, when almost all shows on the boards saw five-figure dips, “Nine” leapt up by a whopping $81,975. The reason? The show has now burned through the discounted tickets ordered by subscribers and is selling more ducats at the top price, $100. With Banderas now confirmed through November, the show is poised to be a strong seller into the fall.
On the winners list from the start was the revival of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which continues to earn close to its potential on a weekly basis. And some of the longer-running shows are finding the summer to be surprisingly hospitable: “Movin’ Out” took home only a couple of minor Tonys, but it has had a strong June, too. Its gross rose from $604,418 for the first week of the season to $793,157 for the fifth frame — numbers the show hasn’t seen since its opening weeks, holiday frames aside.
Overall, the dry summer months are looking pretty fruitful for the season’s new shows that survived the industry’s annual spring cleaning.