Broadway has record year

Paid attendance hit 12.3 million

NEW YORK — A billion-dollar Broadway season isn’t looking too far off anymore.

Sales for the 2006-07 frame hit a record $938.5 million, up 8.9% (or $76.9 million) from the year-earlier tally of $861.6 million, according to a season-end report from the League of American Theaters and Producers.

Paid attendance hit a record 12.3 million, climbing 2.6% from the 12 million theatergoers of the 2005-06 session.

Top-grossing offerings of the season were new musical “Mary Poppins” ($33.7 million) and revival “A Chorus Line” ($26.2 million). Lincoln Center Theater’s nonprofit production of Tom Stoppard’s three-play epic, “The Coast of Utopia,” was the season’s highest selling nontuner at $11.2 million. (Their fall openings further boosted the strong tallies for those three productions, allowing them more time to rack up box office than late-breaking spring entries.)

As for the longer-running shows on the boards, it’s no surprise that the most consistent weekly top performers also were tops at season’s end, with “Wicked” ($73 million), “Jersey Boys” ($58 million) and “The Lion King” ($55 million) leading the pack.

Broadway’s consistently ascending seasonal box office totals can be partly attributed to rising ticket prices and the increasing prominence of the premium-priced ticket. Attendance therefore offers the more reliable figure in assessing the popularity of Broadway.

Just a few years ago, 12 million visitors in a single season was a coveted goal for the main stem. Broadway attracted more than 11.9 million patrons during the 2000-01 season, but that total dropped by nearly a million the following season, during which the Rialto was hit by a downturn prompted by the 9/11 attacks. Attendance hovered around 11.5 million for three seasons (between fall 2002 and spring 2005) before the 12 million barrier was broken for the first time last season.

Average price paid per ticket rose to $76.23, a bump of $4.44 from the $71.79 average a year earlier. That’s fairly steep, although not as sharp as the $4.64 difference logged between the 2001-02 season (when tickets prices averaged $58.63) and 2002-03 ($63.27).

Broken down by category, average price for musicals — the mass-appeal genre that most often benefits from premium pricetags — climbed $5.13, from $72.75 to $77.88. Average play ticket, however, was actually down, falling more than $2.50 from $66.68 to $64.14.

A total of 35 productions opened during the 2006-07 season, the 52-week period that ended Sunday. Of the 17 musicals, 12 were new tuners and five were revivals. Of the 18 plays, 11 were new and seven were revivals.

Musicals accounted for 10.8 million tickets sold (up from 10.1 million the prior season), or almost 90% of grosses.

Plays made up the 1.5 million ticket balance. That’s down from 1.9 million in the 2005-06 season — but then, there were six fewer plays this season. Despite a busy spring for nonmusicals, only 18 plays opened this season vs. 24 the previous season (and about the same number the prior two seasons). Stoppard’s “Utopia” trilogy is counted as a single production for this tally.

As usual, the best single sales week of the season was the holiday frame, when receipts for Dec. 25-31 hit a boffo $29.1 million. Same holiday sesh the prior year brought in $25.2 million.

Tourists continued to provide a solid chunk of Broadway coin. More than 5 million tickets were purchased by domestic tourists, and international visitors accounted for more than 1.3 million, a total about on par with the previous two seasons.

Playing weeks — which adds up the number of performance weeks logged by each individual production on the Rialto — rose from 1,501 the previous season to 1,509. That’s the second-highest number on record; the 2002-03 sesh tallied 1,544 playing weeks.

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