Musical still ahead of 'Lion King' surge

Broadway rang in more than a billion for the 2011 calendar year, with “Wicked” once again claiming the title of the year’s top grosser despite a surge of competish from “The Lion King.”

Although the 2010 chart was dominated by long-running successes, two big-earning newbies — “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” and “The Book of Mormon” — show potential for longer runs.

Broadway bookkeepers often pay more attention to seasons — the Tony-eligibility window that tends to begin and end in late April or early May — rather than calendar years. But year-end numbers can still help bring the prior year into focus and clarify trends to keep an eye on.

The $1.08 billion total reps the cume from the 52-week period ending Dec. 25. (Next year will be one of the calendar’s periodic 53-week seshes.) The 2011 tally is up by some $44 million over the prior frame — no surprise, given rising ticket prices and increasing prominence of premium-ticket sales. Attendance, on the other hand, just barely showed an uptick — by about 25,000 theatergoers to 12.13 million.

Last year saw longtime top dog “Wicked” unseated multiple times from its habitual perch by both “Lion King” and “Spider-Man.” Still, “Wicked” finished first often enough to maintain its status as the highest-grossing Broadway show for the eighth year in a row, the only production ever to do so. “The Phantom of the Opera” also has been a top annual grosser for eight years, but those years weren’t consecutive.

For its part, “Lion King” can tout its unusually strong B.O. performance heading into its 15th year on Broadway. The show’s holiday-week tally of $2.4 million was its best ever on the Rialto; the same frame saw the tuner break house records in Las Vegas and on the road as well.

It was “Spider-Man” that provided the biggest shakeup in the year-end charts, overcoming much-publicized tech troubles and nasty reviews to gross $69 million for the year. There’s no guarantee the show will continue to maintain that momentum for another year, but given the $2.9 million tally logged by the musical for the week ending Jan. 1, it’s clear producers know how take advantage of high-demand periods.

There’s also “Book of Mormon,” with a $51 million total that placed it right behind the $52.3 million belted out by “Jersey Boys.” The Broadway edition of “Mormon” likely won’t approach the pile of money earned by “Wicked” or “Lion King” because of its venue’s substantially smaller seating capacity, but the strength of those figures suggest the Tony winner could be adding to the Broadway pot for a considerable while.

Last season’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” fueled by topliner Daniel Radcliffe, also entered the top 10 at $42.9 million. Radcliffe exited the show Jan. 1, but producers are hoping to keep sales strong, with stints by young-skewing performers Darren Criss (“Glee”) and tween heartthrob Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers band.

Of course, early strength doesn’t always guarantee longevity. Take last year’s new additions to the 2010 Top 10: “Promises, Promises” closed a year ago when its stars moved on, while “The Addams Family” reported a $37 million year and just closed Jan. 1 without recouping.

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