It’s gonna get scary.
That’s the thinking, anyway, among Broadway watchers looking to the week ahead. Last week’s Broadway box office actually looked pretty good — and especially boffo for Al Pacino’s latest outing in a David Mamet play, “China Doll,” alongside a promising start for Bruce Willis in his Broadway debut — but industry types are finding cause for concern in the upcoming weekend, when a perfect storm of box-office hobblers are on the calendar to happen all at once this year.
First, there’s Halloween itself, which always takes the wind out of Broadway’s sales. Family audiences get distracted by trick-or-treating, locals are more apt to attend a costume party than a musical, and much of Manhattan becomes a great big party — which is enough to keep many wary visitors at bay. This year the holiday falls on a Saturday, which seems likely to drain business away from the weekend performances that are always a production’s most shows of the week. All up and down the Street, productions have begun to institute Halloween deals for endangered performances, including $31 tickets at “Something Rotten!” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
What’s really frightening, though, is that the New York Marathon will happen this year on the very same weekend as Halloween. The annual run, scheduled for Nov. 1, also drains sales, filling the city’s hotel rooms with visitors more likely to spend Saturday carb-loading than theatergoing. And to top it all off, there’s a decent chance that the New York Mets will be spending Saturday night playing the fifth game of the World Series just over the bridge at Citi Field.
Any one of those alone would seem worrying, but put them all together, and it’s a nail-biter. And then on Nov. 1, the clocks change. There’s some industry doubt about whether the usual box office slowdown that occurs in the wake of a clock-change is anything more than a coincidence, and in any case the real sales effect (assuming it exists) would be felt in the following week — but still, by Sunday it might feel like the weekend is just adding insult to injury.
But in the meantime, producers can content themselves with the solid sales posted by the Street last week. The biggest winner of the week was “China Doll” ($1,072,111 for six previews), the seemingly can’t-miss pairing of Broadway sales powerhouse Pacino with the writer with whom he is often associated, Mamet. The show topped $1 million from just six previews.
Also strong right out of the gate was “Misery” ($622,939 for four previews), which turned heads thanks to its Oscar-winning title and its starring role for Bruce Willis, making his Broadway debut opposite Laurie Metcalf. If those per-performance numbers keep up, “Misery” could be joining the millionaires’ club too.
The third play to begin previews last week, “A View from the Bridge” ($274,654), started more modestly, but given the strong reviews the production received in London, the show has the potential to draw crowds once critics weigh in.
Also contributing coin to the overall Broadway pot was previewing Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical “On Your Feet!” ($1,096,202), which topped $1 million for the first time, as well as “The Gin Game” ($446,983), up 30% thanks to strong reviews and audience affection for stars Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones.
Otherwise, there were ups and there were downs among individual titles all along the Street, but few seemed terribly noteworthy. The Broadway cume rose $2.1 million to $27.4 million for 34 shows now playing, with overall attendance jumping 16,500 to 266,254, or 86% of total capacity.