Weeklong stint in show brings boffo sales

Broadway once again topped $1 billion for the calendar year, ringing in total sales of $1.037 billion and logging overall attendance of 12.11 million, according to new figures from the Broadway League.

That’s a record in dollar terms, up from $1.004 billion in 2009 (the first annum in which the Rialto cracked the billion-buck mark). But attendance did not hit a record: While that total was up from the 11.88 million theatergoers reported in 2009, it doesn’t match the 12.85 million in 2008 (or, for that matter, the 12.44 million from 2007).

Top-selling individual shows of 2010 pretty consistently matched the list of week-to-week sales champs. “Wicked,” which has made a habit of topping $2 million during high-demand holiday frames, rang in at $82 million for the year, followed by “The Lion King” ($74 million), “Billy Elliot” ($57 million) and “Jersey Boys” ($55 million).

New additions to the annual top 10 include last season’s “The Addams Family” ($49.7 million), which has so far flouted downbeat reviews to post strong sales, and the just-shuttered “Promises, Promises” ($43 million), which was powered by topliners Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth.

Star-driven, limited-run plays don’t run long enough to land at the top of the list but still can prove hugely profitable for the handful of weeks they’re on the boards. Denzel Washington starrer “Fences” rang in $11.8 million from its 13-week run, and Liev Schreiber-Scarlett Johansson topliner “A View From the Bridge” pulled in $10.3 million from the 13 frames it played in 2010. The recently extended “Driving Miss Daisy,” which has done robust biz with a cast that includes James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave, pulled in $9.2 million since opening in the fall.

Even as annual attendance fluctuated, grosses have mostly risen over the years thanks to the increasing prominence of premium-price ticketing and the upward creep of ticket prices in general.

Vagaries in attendance, meanwhile, can be influenced by an array of factors, including the number of productions running per year (and how commercially viable they proved), overall tourism trends and the degree of inclement winter weather.

The League measures overall Main Stem activity in playing weeks, the cumulative tally of the number of weeks played by each individual production during the year. This year’s tally, 1,550 weeks, reps a step up from the 1,440 weeks in 2009 but doesn’t match the 1,653 logged in 2008, when attendance hit a record high.

Although calendar-year numbers are always watched by legiters, the standard unit of annual measurement is the season, which traditionally begins and ends in May. So far, according to the League, the 2010-11 season is up 3.6% in overall gross (up to $665 million from $641 million) and 3.8% in attendance (to 7.5 million from 7.3 million) compared to the 2009-10 season. Playing weeks have so far totaled 964 vs. the 873 reported at this time a year ago.

Most legiters have high hopes for both box office and attendance in the coming spring, which boasts a slate unusually crowded with high-profile, large-scale commercial tuners including “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

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