Box office powered by plentiful millionaires

Broadway box office may have begun its inexorable late-August decline in recent weeks, but the Main Stem logged a robust summer marked by demand-driven sked changes and, in August, an unusual hat trick of show recoupments.

Since the start of the summer — also the official launch of the 2012-13 season, which began Memorial Day, May 28 — Broadway has rung in $302.4 million, well ahead of the $268.4 million reported in 2011.

As always, rising tickets prices play a role in the climbing cume. But perhaps more notably, this summer’s momentum seemed largely driven by a beefy lineup of top attractions for which theatergoers proved willing to shell out bigger and bigger money.

Heck, the millionaires’ club was downright overstuffed this summer, with four of its habitual members — “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” and “The Book of Mormon” — joined by newbies “Evita,” “Newsies” and “Once.” Factor in the tourism-surfing fluctuations of shows such as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Mary Poppins,” and it all adds up to a summer in which as many as nine individual tuners brought in more than $1 million each in a single week.

It was a case of the rich getting richer, with a lot of the extra money coming into the Street attracted to the big-name titles. For instance, the average price paid — a mark of how much consumers are willing to pay to see a show — for “The Book of Mormon” topped $186 for the week ended Aug. 26, compared to $145 for an equivalent week in 2011.

As the summer illustrated, producers are getting savvier at extracting as much they can from high-demand weeks. For one sesh in July and another in August, Broadway’s two top earners, “Wicked” and “The Lion King,” each played an extra ninth perf to accommodate additional auds — and additional revenue.

Still, there were signs that it wasn’t just the biggest smashes that could make it work on the Rialto.

The news that “Once” had made it into the black came unusually quickly but wasn’t all that surprising: The show, benefitting from relatively low capitalization and running costs, had seen sales snowball into a string of million-dollar weeks.

But with their late-August recoupments, the plays “One Man, Two Guvnors” and “The Best Man” exemplified productions that moved into the hit column with generally unspectacular, but nonetheless solid, sales.

“One Man” earned rave reviews and scored a Tony for lead thesp James Corden, but the London import’s weekly sales never quite spiked the way an earlier National Theater transfer, “The History Boys,” did.

Weekly grosses for “One Man” mostly tended to hover between $500,000 and $650,000. That’s no “Death of a Salesman” (to point to the spring’s breakout-smash play title), but “One Man” nonetheless made its money back with slow-and-steady sales propelled by a moderate Tony uptick and good word of mouth.

Unlike “One Man,” “Best Man” earned mixed reviews, with a couple of prominent pans. But a cast that included James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Eric McCormack and John Larroquette added up to a critical mass of star power that could keep the show going, with weekly totals approaching $900,000 in the last couple of months, to around the same range as “One Man.”

Both shows recouped just prior to early September closing dates. Those shutterings were timed to avoid the traditional sales freefall that hits Broadway in the back-to-school weeks. This autumn will likely prove no different, although legit observers will keep an eye on how much the summer’s crowded pack of millionaires can fight off the usual early-September slippage.

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