Box office picks up seasonal steam

Broadway put some spring back in its step last week, as a seasonal rise in sales helped the Main Stem recover from a tough frame the prior week.

Rialto box office usually begins to gain steam at around this time of year, prodded by the rolling cycle of academic spring breaks and further boosted by the influx of shows that begin perfs now in advance of the Tony eligibility cutoff in late April. Last week individual productions across the board benefitted, with only three shows downticking.

So far the spring’s previewing productions are looking good, as the revival “Gore Vidal’s The Best Man” ($614,511) joined the fray and pulled in solid numbers with the help of a cast of venerable stars including James Earl Jones and Candice Bergen. Also logging encouraging totals were a seven-perf week for Philip Seymour Hoffman topliner “Death of a Salesman” (down a bit to $620,444, likely due to the start of press perfs in advance of the opening Thursday) as well as the first full sesh of eight previews for “Jesus Christ Superstar” ($614,299), playing to 93% capacity.

New tuner “Once” ($544,535), which opens Sunday following a well-received Off Broadway bow, also managed to draw crowds, posting attendance at 96% of capacity.

Meanwhile, the Street’s usual overachievers also climbed, with “Wicked” ($1,662,595) and “The Lion King” ($1,520,084) up by more than $100,000 each and “The Book of Mormon” ($1,500,713) setting yet another house record the Eugene O’Neill Theater. One of the shows most like to benefit from younger-skewing auds freed up by spring break, Nick Jonas starrer “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” ($704,071) leapt by 33%, while tourist magnets “Jersey Boys” ($938,081) and “The Phantom of the Opera” ($767,945) also reported nice bumps.

Among the few shows to soften last week were “Mamma Mia!” ($586,403), in what seems like an anomaly in a frame when such a familiar title would seem likely to improve. Play “Other Desert Cities” ($399,332) also slipped, but only barely.

A couple of last spring’s musical offerings, “Sister Act” ($553,290) and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” ($519,327), continued to have trouble turning heads, with each playing to houses only a bit more than half full — although it remains to be seen whether the incoming new star of “Sister Act,” Raven-Symone, will boost biz. “Godspell” ($289,607) also remained modest.

Overall Broadway sales climbed $1.7 million to $18.6 million for 26 shows on the boards. Attendance rose by 13,000 to 205,996.

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