If the eyes of Broadway producers light up at the mention of the word “Thanksgiving,” it’s not because they like turkey so much. It’s because every year the Main Stem rings in big-money sales that are traditionally second only to the stratospheric Christmas-New Year’s week. And with often-grumpy Gotham critics awarding raves to an unusually high number of new productions in recent weeks, those new critical darlings — some of which could use a boost — look poised to spike in a big way this weekend, right?
Over the past several years, the holiday frames have increasingly seen the rich get richer, with the lion’s share of the Turkey Day bounty going to the titles that are already the Rialto’s biggest hits rather than to the struggling titles that really need their coffers lined. Tourist auds are far more likely to gravitate to the razzle-dazzle musical they’ve heard of rather than to the newer outing that hasn’t yet had time to build much of a profile outside New York.
So even though musicals “After Midnight” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” scored raves (or close enough) this fall, both are newcomers to the boards with no link to a well-known property, meaning that visiting theatergoers may not be familiar enough with them to choose either show over juggernauts like “The Lion King” and “Wicked.”
Which is not to say they won’t pick up: “After Midnight,” in particular, has definitely been on the rise at the box office since the critics weighed in. (The reviews for “Gentleman’s Guide,” which opened Nov. 17, are fresher and haven’t yet had time to contribute a huge amount of momentum to the box office.)
The shows that may be poised to take the biggest advantage of the Thanksgiving boom are the slate of spring successes – “Kinky Boots,” “Motown,” “Matilda” and “Pippin” – that proved over the summer they had the muscle to register big sales when the tourists are in town. All four of those shows will additionally benefit from a performance seg during the nationally televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, although the precise sales effects of a parade appearance are often hard to calculate, especially for shows already well sold for upcoming weeks.
This weekend, at any rate, all four titles will likely ring in significantly boosted sales alongside “Lion King,” “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon” as well as older-vintage successes that often draw big holiday crowds, including “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Chicago.” Faltering productions like “First Date” and “Big Fish” will probably rise but not spectacularly, while legiters this year will have particular interest in the sales at “Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark,” which has in the past posted huge holiday numbers but has seen B.O. drop steeply in recent weeks. (The show will close in January.)
Premium-priced seats are a major factor in the record-breaking sales associated with most holiday frames, allowing producers to capitalize on the seasonal spike in demand at the shows that are already hot tickets. Also helping productions to maximize revenue is an increasing flexibility in performance schedules: Many shows go dark on Thanksgiving night (when most Americans are recovering from the big meal) and instead sked a Friday matinee, when tourists are bustling around town with a day off. A few shows that draw significant international crowds – like long-runners “Phantom” and “Chicago” – will play on Thanksgiving night, expecting to draw the global auds for whom the American holiday doesn’t mean much.
Plays, which in tourist-heavy frames are usually overshadowed by musicals, tend to get less of a pickup from the holidays, and the ones this fall that are already smashes – “Betrayal,” “700 Sundays” – are close to the top of their maximum potential anyway. Still, among the well-reviewed fall additions to the schedule, “The Glass Menagerie” and the newly opened “Waiting for Godot”/”No Man’s Land” will still attract more serious-minded theatergoers and stargazers looking to see Zachary Quinto (“Menagerie”) and Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (“Godot”/”No Man’s Land”). Some legiters predict that the lauded Mark Rylance double bill of “Twelfth Night”/”Richard III” is going so strong it may well perform like a musical this weekend, even with sales potential limited by the 250 $25 seats offered at each perf.
With a handful of healthy plays, well-reviewed new musicals and a heavy slate of successes from last season and earlier, Thanksgiving week will once again be a box office feast. But as is often the case, the fat will probably get fatter while the less well fed will have to hold out for table scraps before many of them throw in the towel at the end of the year.