London plays log unusually strong box office

West End theater broke both box office and attendance records in 2009, according to official figures released Wednesday by the Society of London Theaters.

Attendance was up 5.5% on 2008, with a record total of 14,257,922, marking the first time the figure has crossed the 14 million mark. That resulted in a 7.6% rise in box office to a total of £504,765,690 ($816 million).

These figures present the seventh consecutive annual rise in attendance and sales and are all the more impressive given the recession.

Plays were the strongest performers, with attendance up 26% on 2008. Major players included the Ian McKellen-Patrick Stewart “Waiting for Godot”; the National Theater’s “Phaedra,” starring Helen Mirren; and Michael Grandage’s Donmar West End season at Wyndham’s theater headlined by Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench and Jude Law, which played at 96% capacity.

Opera, dance and entertainments were up 7%. Tuners, by contrast, saw a 2% drop on 2008.

Some of the dip was ascribable to the relatively few new musical productions opening in the year. However, low figures for the early months were boosted by the final quarter, during which attendance was up 4%. By the year’s end, “Oliver” had broken the Theater Royal Drury Lane house record for a weekly gross, “Sister Act” had broken the London Palladium theater’s record for a single day’s take, and “The Lion King” and “Wicked” both broke their own records with their highest-grossing years to date.

Even off-West End venues thrived. In a less than sunny summer, Regent’s Park Open Air Theater played a record 96% capacity and Shakespeare’s Globe played 86%. The Young Vic achieved the highest box office in the theater’s history with its iconoclastic production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Opera, dance and entertainments were up 7%. Tuners, by contrast, saw a 2% drop on 2008.

Some of the dip was ascribable to the relatively few new musical productions opening in the year. However, low figures for the early months were boosted by the final quarter, during which attendance was up 4%. By the year’s end, “Oliver” had broken the Theater Royal Drury Lane house record for a weekly gross, “Sister Act” had broken the London Palladium theater’s record for a single day’s take, and “The Lion King” and “Wicked” both broke their own records with their highest grossing year to date.

Even off-West End venues thrived. In a less than sunny summer, Regent’s Park Open Air Theater played a record 96% capacity and Shakespeare’s Globe played 86%. The Young Vic achieved the highest box office in the theater’s history with its iconoclastic production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”

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