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Broadway hits high over holiday

Official grosses exceed $21 million

Broadway’s box office stocking was stuffed during the build-up to Christmas, with official grosses for the week ended Sunday exceeding $21 million — more than $2 million ahead of the same frame last season.

Factor in an estimate of $1.55 million for Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” which does not report grosses, and the legit sector has plenty of reasons for holiday cheer.

While the week between Christmas and New Year’s is traditionally the season’s strongest (the Dec. 25-31 frame earned a record-smashing $29.1 million last year), the week prior to Christmas often sees a slight dip in Rialto trading as theater competes for attention with office parties, last-minute shopping and family obligations.

If the uptick continues through the end of December, Broadway will have gone a long way toward recovering lost ground from the stagehands strike that kept most of its theaters dark for three weeks last month.

Musicals, as always, were the top draw with holiday theatergoers. Perennial chart topper “Wicked” grossed $1,707,129 to reclaim lead position from seasonal upstart “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas — The Musical.” That tyke tuner nonetheless added a healthy $1,645,221 to its cume with 15 performances.

Seven shows hurdled the $1 million threshold. Along with “Wicked,” “The Grinch” and “Young Frankenstein,” those included “The Lion King” ($1,361,604), “Jersey Boys” ($1,263,193), Disney’s still-previewing new entry “The Little Mermaid” ($1,183,665) and “Mary Poppins” ($1,141,646).

The big year-end news in theater coverage was the resurgence of straight plays on Broadway. Mightiest among Rialto dramas continues to be the “Cyrano de Bergerac” revival starring Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner, which placed seventh for the week with a robust take of $944,747.

While none of the other plays are registering capacity biz, a handful of key entries driven by stellar reviews performed solidly and showed a 10%-20% uptick. Those included critical fave “August: Osage County” ($484,100), “Rock ‘n’ Roll” ($446,103) and “The Seafarer” ($274,488).

“We went from an advance of less than $300,000 before we opened to now nearly $2.5 million,” said “August” producer Jeffrey Richards. “That’s one of the largest advances of a straight play in recent history — and it’s playing in one of the largest houses.

“Considering this is a playwright making his Broadway debut and a cast with no star names, I call that rather extraordinary,” Richards continued. “If you add in group bookings, which are excluded from the advance, that puts it over $3 million, which is comparable to what some of the smaller musicals are doing.”

The last production to open in 2007, the revival of Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming,” represented an audacious positioning of pitch-black material so close to the holidays, but its slow start has been boosted by some glowing reviews and inclusion on a number of critics’ top 10 lists. Biz climbed 49% last week to total $247,572. It remains to be seen, however, if the scathing play about power games in a family of men can find traction with so much dramatic competition.

Adding one more play to the mix, David Mamet’s presidential election comedy “November,” starring Nathan Lane and Laurie Metcalf, began previews last week, grossing a respectable $266,490 for its first six performances.

While January is traditionally a slow month for Broadway, with business falling off dramatically after the holidays, early 2008 stands to receive a boost from an unusual shot of new activity. In addition to “November,” opening Jan. 17 at the Barrymore, and “The Little Mermaid,” making its official splashdown Jan. 11 at the Lunt-Fontanne, Roundabout opens “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” at the American Airlines on Jan. 15, while Manhattan Theater Club bows “Come Back, Little Sheba” at the Biltmore on Jan. 24.

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