Attendance slips, but premium tix raise more dough

The recession hasn’t dented Broadway B.O., but it may have dinged it a bit.

As the 2009-10 Broadway season came to its official close last week — at least according to box office bookkeepers — the 52-week frame pulled in a grand total of $1.02 billion. But whether that’s higher or lower than last year’s tally remains a question mark.

Attendance, as expected, was down, slipping from 12.25 million in 2008-09 to 11.89 million for 2009-10. One potential factor could be the Street’s generally high ticket prices (boosted further by premium prices for in-demand shows), which may have discouraged some theatergoers still belt-tightening in the wake of the economic downturn.

Another contributor to the drop might be the fact that fewer shows opened this season, with 39 productions bowing vs. the 43 logged last season.

According to the Broadway League, the $1.02 billion “gross gross” figure — vs. the lower “net gross” figure reported every prior season — is still up from the $1 billion gross gross the League had on the books from 2008-09.

But that $1 billion doesn’t take into account the phantom sales of “Young Frankenstein,” the producer of which refused to report publicly the show’s numbers. Production, which closed in early 2009, contributed an unconfirmed pot of coin to the overall 2008-09 tally (not to mention some uncounted theatergoers to the attendance cume).

The actual dollar figure from 2009-10 could, therefore, reflect a dip of as much as 1% from 2008-09, according to League estimations. But League exec director Charlotte St. Martin still touted the industry’s buoyancy in a tough fiscal climate.

It’s a stance many legiters have upheld since last season, when the Street’s numbers proved surprisingly resilient in face of a national economy that was, at the time, in the deepest throws of the downturn.

The usual suspects made up the list of the 2009-10 season’s highest grossing shows, with “Wicked” ($81.5 million) topping a lineup that includes “The Lion King” ($68.9 million) running nearly neck-and-neck with “Billy Elliot” ($68.1 million).

The top-selling offerings to open this season have included crowd-attracting tuners — such as recently bowed “The Addams Family” ($14.3 million so far) and “Promises, Promises” ($8.6 million so far) — as well as a number of star-driven play productions that managed to rake in dough during their limited runs, like “A Steady Rain” ($15.2 million), “Hamlet” ($10 million) and “Fences” ($5.2 million so far).

There were disappointments as well, among both musicals — “Ragtime” ($6 million), “Finian’s Rainbow” ($7.9 million) — and plays such as “Brighton Beach Memoirs” ($540,000) and “Enron” ($1.5 million).

Of course, for many in the industry, the season won’t actually feel over until the Tony Awards are handed out at the June 13 ceremony.

Taken as an individual sesh, week 52 — which ended Sunday — was largely unremarkable, with few notable bumps or dips reported. Total sales rose by less than $450,000 to $22.9 million for 33 shows on the boards.

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