Boffo season for Broadway

2011-12 frame sets new B.O. record

Broadway has hit a new box office high, ringing in $1.14 billion for the 2011-12 season.

With attendance about on par with the prior frame, the B.O. rise can be attributed to climbing ticket prices — most notably with the expanding reach of premium-priced tickets, which these days sell for as much as $477 (at high-demand tuner “The Book of Mormon”).

Those numbers won’t quell gripes that Broadway is pricing itself well outside the budget of many consumers. But it offers further proof that even with the economy’s recovery proving tenuous, theatergoers remain willing to pay top dollar for the Rialto’s hottest tickets.

Savvy pricing strategies have also led to a resurgence of competish for the top spot in the weekly top 10, especially from roaring biz at “The Lion King.” Nonetheless, long-dominant “Wicked” ($91 million) remained leader of the pack for the eighth consecutive season (a new record for an uninterupted run in the seasonal pole position), keeping $3 million ahead of the $87.9 million logged by “Lion King.”

“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” ($79 million) landed at No. 3, overcoming its much-hyped troubles to become a consistently strong earner over the course of the season. Behind it was “The Book of Mormon” with $72.2 million, a figure even more outsized given the smaller theater in which the show plays. (The “Mormon” venue seats around 1,050, whereas “Wicked,” for example, can play to 1,800.)That smaller house, of course, means a smaller inventory of available tickets, further driving up the demand that fuels premium ticket sales.

It’s rare for shows from the current season to place high on the overall season chart, since none have run the full season and many just began perfs in the spring. On that front, “Evita,” logging $1.5 million in weekly sales thanks to the box office draw of topliner Ricky Martin, is probably the MVP of the sesh, posting sales of $16 million from just 11 weeks on the boards. Also doing well were the now-shuttered “Follies” ($19.6 million for 24 weeks) and “Porgy and Bess” ($16.5 million), which began perfs in December. There’s also the stellar numbers logged by “Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway,” which brought in a walloping $14.6 million over its limited run of just 10 weeks.

Direct comparison between the 2011-12 season and its predecessor is complicated by the fact that the 2010-11 frame consisted of 53 weeks rather than the usual 52, in a bookkeeping fillip that sees an extra week tacked on once every seven years to mitigate calendar variables arising over the course of individual annums.

In any event, the $1.14 billion tally for the 2011-12 season, which ended May 27, outpaced the $1.08 billion logged over the 53-week 2010-11 season. Attendance came in at 12.33 million, a bit less than the 12.53 million reported for the prior season’s 53-week frame.

Dropping one week of the 2010-11 season to aid comparisons, 2010-11 comes in at $1.06 million with an attendance of 12.3 million — about the same as the 2011-12 tally.

Although the overall audience for Broadway barely budged in 2011-12, other numbers point to the fact that the same number of people turned out for fewer overall perfs. Forty new shows opened in 2011-12, down from the previous season’s 42, and playing weeks — the cumulative total of the individual weeks every single Broadway show was in production — came in at 1,522. That’s a step down from the 1,588 logged the prior window, even accounting for that frame’s 53rd week.

Season was characterized by an unusually crowded slate of 23 plays. New works, such as “Other Desert Cities” ($13.8 million) and “Clybourne Park” ($3 million), dominated the list, although it was a spring revival, “Death of Salesman” ($11.8 million), that proved the most notable powerhouse.

Among the season’s 14 musicals were strong-selling Tony nominees “Newsies” ($9.9 million), “Once” ($8.6 million) and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” ($8 million), as well as short-lived outings such as “Lysistrata Jones” ($1.4 million) and “Leap of Faith” ($1.3 million).

Although the Broadway League’s bookkeeping reboots every year around the end of May, legiters won’t feel the 2011-12 frame is truly over until trophies are handed out at the Tonys June 10.

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