Big B’way payday

Tuners spur attendance, B.O. records

Broadway’s back in a big way.

Fueled by holdover hits and a terrific selection of new shows, the 2005-06 season grossed a record $861.6 million, up 12% from the previous season.

Paid attendance broke the 12 million barrier for the first time, hitting 12,003,148 ticket buyers.

Top earners were “Wicked,” with $68.1 million; “The Lion King,” at $59.3 million; “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” $53.6 million; “Mamma Mia!” with $48.9 million; and “The Producers” with $40.2 million.

Of the new shows this season, biggest hits were “Jersey Boys,” “The Color Purple” and “The Odd Couple.”

The percentage of seats filled also hit an all-time record: 81.6%. The number of playing weeks — sum total of the number of weeks played by each show — was 1,501, up from 1,494 the prior season but not quite as high as the 2002-03 season, when playing weeks rose to 1,544.

Year-end figures for the season — the 52-week period ended May 28 — were released Wednesday by the League of American Theaters & Producers.

Figures mark a big bounce-back for Broadway, which was hard hit by 9/11. Attendance hadn’t neared 12 million since the 2000-01 season, which logged 11.89 million theatergoers.

Season attendance for 2004-05 was 11.53 million, earning $768.5 million.

One reason for the robust season was the growth in Gotham tourism. Domestic tourists purchased more than 5 million tickets last season, according to early estimates by the league, and international visitors bought more than 1.3 million.

This season’s gain for grosses is impressive but not unexpected given that many shows upped their top ticket to $110. Also, B.O. was boosted by strong sales of higher-priced tickets for hot shows such as the Julia Roberts starrer “Three Days of Rain.”

And, of course, the long-running shows kept the pump primed. All four of last year’s Tony-nominated tuners — “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” “The Light in the Piazza,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” — are still running, which is a rarity and an indicator of Broadway’s robust health.

Given the real estate being held by the holdovers, the 39 new offerings jostled for Rialto venues, resulting in a logjam and a very busy spring.

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