Crystal clear winner in four previews

No more excuses. With the Republican convention, September blues, Jewish holidays, daylight-saving time and the 2004 presidential election behind it, Broadway couldn’t help but rebound. Finally. Gone are those recent weeks when “Wicked” accounted for 10% of all receipts.

Last week, box office for 31 shows rose $2,499,575, 21.07%, for a seasonal tally of $14,360,874. Paid attendance came to 220,199, up 20.49%, which put it right in line with numbers recorded two years ago for this time frame. But still no cigar: 2003 numbers hit an awesome 250,068 in paid admissions and $16.07 million in receipts.

Some of the Broadway bounce came from the addition of two tuner revivals: “La Cage aux Folles” ($414,241) in its first five previews and “Pacific Overtures” ($217,160) in its first five.

But best buzz on the Rialto is for Broadway’s December opener: Billy Crystal in “700 Sundays” ($492,474) came in at a lucky No. 13 on the B.O. chart, its heady cume the result of only his first four previews. Crystal played to 98.7% cap and scored the week’s top average-price ticket: $105.18. Next in line was “Wicked” ($1,196,397), which averaged $82.67. “700 Sundays” opens Dec. 5 and its advance then should top $10 million.

Other one-person shows bobbed along in Crystal’s wake. Their receipts tell the story: “Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance” ($316,074 for seven previews), “Whoopi” ($187,957 for seven previews), “Mario Cantone: Laugh Whore” ($157,975 for six perfs), “Golda’s Balcony” ($116,485 for eight perfs) and “The Good Body” ($107,397 for eight previews). Will everybody make it to the new year?

Respective bumps of $98,426 and $110,245 landed “Wonderful Town” ($577,214) and “Chicago” ($561,644) rare berths on the top 10 chart. It’s the highest nonholiday gross this year for the Brooke Shields starrer.

“Democracy” ($380,932) also gained handsomely, up $107,350, thanks in part to three more previews. The Michael Frayn drama opens Thursday.

Bubbling elsewhere under the top 10, “Fiddler on the Roof” ($507,755), “Bombay Dreams” ($470,868) and “Rent” ($369,913) saw increases of $50,000 or more.

“Brooklyn” ($414,161) gained $49,314, which gave the new tuner its best week. Contrary to the industry trend, each of the show’s last three sessions has shown improvement at the box office. So much for critics driving in the final nail there.

Less spectacular were the five-figure upticks for “Beauty and the Beast” ($551,369); “Dracula” ($281,580); “Forever Tango” ($146,654); and “Twelve Angry Men” ($327,703), which grossed only $40,000 less than the American Airlines house record set by “The Women” during Christmas week 2001.

“‘night, Mother” ($218,635) avoided the usual press-comp blues. Despite a Sunday preem, its gross increased $40,574.

Not every show under the top 10 saw receipts improve. “Avenue Q” ($480,653) and “Reckless” ($207,133) were off $14,871 and $21,213, respectively.

(In last week’s column, the gross for “Reckless” was incorrect: It should have read $228,346.)

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