Total grosses climb to $261.8 million

Sales were hot on Broadway this summer, with total grosses climbing to $261.8 million for the first 14 weeks of the 2007-08 season, stretching from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

That’s up nearly $24 million over the same period last year, when receipts totaled $238.1 million.

Summer is traditionally a bountiful time on the Rialto, with the seasonal influx of out-of-towners boosting sales for a roster of shows that over the years has become increasingly dominated by tourist-drawing tuners. This year, consistently rising ticket prices — coupled with a solid summer hit, “Grease” — also contributed to the higher tally.

Top earners were the usual array of perennial Broadway hits, including “Wicked” ($21.8 million for the summer), “The Lion King” ($18.9 million) and “Jersey Boys” ($18 million), plus an entry from last season, “Mary Poppins” ($17.4 million).

Success of the new production of “Grease,” starring thesps cast via the NBC reality skein “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” seems to demonstrate the impressive legit selling power of national TV. Revival started strong out of the gate in July and cruised past lackluster reviews last month to retain its full-house sales. The tuner has grossed just over $4.2 million since it began perfs July 24.

Another summer opening, “Xanadu,” also has proved a success so far, with the campy spoof of the 1980 pic surprising Rialto denizens by winning largely positive reviews and attracting growing auds. In the smallest theater on Broadway, “Xanadu” has logged about $3.3 million in ticket sales since it began previews May 23.

The summer also saw awards fave “Spring Awakening” gather steam, with its eight Tony wins pushing weekly B.O. into the $800,000 range and helping the production muscle into the top 10 for a couple of weeks last month.

Another musical from last season, “Mary Poppins,” cemented its place in the millionaires’ club, selling more than $1 million each week of the summer frame.

Also contributing to the Rialto pot were revitalized numbers for older tuners. Five-year-old “Hairspray,” whose sales have fluctuated in recent years, is now packing them in thanks to the high-profile national marketing campaign for the movie version released in July. The live show’s weekly gross crested at over $900,000 last month.

Eleven-year-old “Rent” also got a significant bump, in this case from the midsummer return of two of the production’s original stars, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal. During the thesps’ first week in the show, weekly receipts shot up an astonishing $250,000 to $633,000. (Sales have powered down somewhat since then but remained last week at about $525,000.)

And in the final month of its 13-year run, “Beauty and the Beast” joined “Poppins” among the millionaires, pulling in theatergoers eager to catch the long-runner before it shuttered July 29.

Summer, of course, is also the time when Broadway’s packed springtime slate is winnowed down. In 2006 the 32 productions playing on Memorial Day shrank to 23 shows by Labor Day; this year 36 offerings were distilled down to 21.

Despite a fair helping of Tony love, “Grey Gardens” proved unable to last into August, and “Tarzan,” which had struggled to find a solid foothold on the Rialto since in opened late in the 2005-06 season, closed up shop in early July.

The summer sesh also saw every single play on the Rialto (including “Frost/Nixon,” “Deuce,” “The Year of Magical Thinking” and “Talk Radio”) finish out their engagements, most of which were limited runs to begin with. Plays are far from extinct on the Great White Way — a full dozen will open between now and the end of the calendar year — but the current absence of nontuners underscores the difficulty in sustaining biz for plays over extended periods.

With sunny summer sales behind them, producers now have to endure the traditional September doldrums, when B.O. is usually sapped by factors ranging from the Jewish holidays to back-to-school distractions.

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