This year after Christmas, the floor wasn’t just strewn with torn wrapping paper — it was littered with the remains of broken Broadway records in a B.O.-busting holiday frame.
“Wicked” ($3,201,333 for nine perfs) became the first show ever to top $3 million for a single week of shows, with the flood of Gotham’s holiday visitors driving demand for the 10-year-old hit high enough to sustain an average price paid per ticket of $184.50. Meanwhile, Daniel Craig starrer “Betrayal” ($1,442,087) logged the highest one-week total for any play in Broadway history — although Billy Crystal topliner “700 Sundays” ($1,403,415) was hot on its heels, and with only six perfs to boot.
The breaking of the $3 million barrier reps a B.O. milestone, but in a Broadway economy in which the predominance of premium-priced seats has accelerated the timeline for record-breaking feats like last week’s. In the good old days — that is, five years ago — weekly Rialto sales were just beginning to make the $2 million mark seem a feasible achievement for a single show in a single week. Over Thanksgiving 2009 “Wicked” became the first to pass that high-water mark, which has since been topped multiple times not only by “Wicked” but by a handful of other productions as well.
Last week it was four shows that logged more than $2 million apiece. “The Lion King” ($2,837,158 for nine) placed ahead of a best-ever tally for 2013 Tony champ “Kinky Boots” ($2,247,240 for nine) as well as “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” ($2,176,436 for nine), upswinging dramatically ahead of its Jan. 4 closing, and “The Book of Mormon” ($2,145,404).
Outside of the top five titles, an astonishing 13 productions came in at more than $1 million each, and some of those with only eight perfs (or, in the case of “700 Sundays,” six) under their belt rather than the nine-performance week that has almost become the holiday norm as producers look to capitalize on the spiking demand of a tourist-heavy frame. Twenty-six-year-old “The Phantom of the Opera” ($1,843,296 for nine) once again showed off its jawdropping staying power, while “Matilda” ($1,732,800), “Motown” ($1,708,597) and “Pippin” ($1,245,604) were among the newer titles on the list.
While the stellar B.O. showing certainly made for an excellent Christmas present, it didn’t count as much of a surprise: The stage was already set for a record-breaking holiday sesh.
The rise of premium ticket pricing has helped push sales figures ever higher over the last decade, particularly during the high-demand frames of which Christmas week is usually the very highest. And this past spring saw an unusual bounty of strong sellers — “Kinky Boots,” “Matilda,” “Motown,” “Pippin” — muscle in alongside longer-running juggernauts including “Wicked” and “The Lion King,” adding significantly to the overall cume, which last week climbed more than $10 million to hit $38.8 million for 30 shows on the boards. (That’s $1.3 million higher than the $37.4 million posted during the same week in 2012, when there were 31 productions running.)
As proof that Christmas brought out a slew of visitors to the city, attendance jumped more than 45,000 to 290,386 — a gobsmacking 95% of Broadway’s overall weekly seating capacity. Streetwide, the average price paid per ticket (a reliable indicator of ticket demand) jumped more than $20 to $133.56. Highest individual average was at “Book of Mormon” at $245.
Almost every single title shared in the bounty, as “Big Fish” ($950,667 for nine) benefited from last-minute sales in its final week and Ian McKellan-Patrick Stewart starrer “Waiting for Godot/No Man’s Land” ($911,906) topped $900,000. Two of the fall’s best-reviewed musical offerings, “After Midnight” ($891,410) and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” ($816,932 for nine) posted best-ever numbers, as did previewing Carole King tuner “Beautiful” ($838,845). Another critical darling, “Twelfth Night/Richard III” ($786,377 for seven), stayed strong even with one fewer perf than many other shows and with one-quarter of its ticket inventory sold for $25 a pop.
The coming New Year’s week might not be quite as boffo as the Christmas sesh, but numbers should still remain plenty high. It’s the following week that legiters will have to worry about, as the traditional January slump hits when all those tourists and family auds finish off their vacations and get back to the grind.