Disney dominated the Broadway box office in 2015 just as it did in 2014, with Disney Theatrical’s “The Lion King” proving the top earner of the calendar year and the company’s more recent stage success, “Aladdin,” landing at number three.
Those two shows, along with fellow box office powerhouses such as “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon,” helped propel the year to a robust tally of $1.354 billion for the 52-week window that began Dec. 29, 2014 and ended Dec. 27, 2015. That was almost but not quite as high as the $1.362 billion logged in 2014, and the overall attendance figure for 2015, 12.98 million, was down from the 13.13 logged the previous year.
But if the year-end numbers didn’t break any records, the first week of 2016 did, logging a whopping $43.1 million and 357,718 theatergoers for 38 shows running. That makes the week ending Jan. 3, 2016 the best-attended and highest-grossing frame in Broadway history, with “Wicked” ($2,940,096 for nine performances) landing the week’s number one slot (and coming within spitting distance of the $3 million mark).
Broadway bookkeepers tend to pay more attention to the annual numbers yielded by the May-to-May Broadway season (timed to the Tony Awards cycle). But calendar-year figures still offer a solid picture of box office health, both for individual shows and for Broadway overall.
For “The Lion King,” 2015 added $102.8 million (for the 52-week period ending Dec. 27) to the overall haul of the 18-year-old Broadway hit, which in all its international incarnations has taken in more than $6 billion. Add to that the $81 million rung in by “Aladdin,” and Disney easily held onto the year’s Broadway box office crown.
With “Wicked” (the second-highest earner at $90.8 million) lining the coffers at Universal and “The Book of Mormon” (No. 4 at $80 million) coming from movie and TV names including producer Scott Rudin and “South Park” creatives Trey Parker and Matt Stone, there are plenty of Hollywood links to the top of the Broadway box office. All that profit should only bolster the increasing interest movie studios have shown in getting more involved in the Broadway game.
“An American in Paris,” banking $52.2 million since it began previews in March, was the top selling show that opened in 2015, with two more shows that opened in the spring — “Finding Neverland” ($41 million) and “The King and I” ($39.3 million) — making strong showings as well. And attention must be paid to “Hamilton,” the megahot hit that only started Broadway performances in mid-July but still managed to rack up $37.3 million.
Tony champ “Fun Home” ($25.7 million) didn’t make it into the upper echelon of earners, but that’s to be expected, since the production (which recently recouped) plays in one of Broadway’s smallest houses. Fellow Tony winner “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which had the advantage of being open all year, earned $39.3 million, making it the top-selling play of the year.
Among other plays, Larry David comedy “Fish in the Dark” sold huge, especially when David was starring in the show too, pulling in $27.7 million from about 26 weeks on the boards. Helen Mirren outing “The Audience,” raking in $22.1 million for less than 20 weeks, was no slouch, either.
Shows that made the 2015 Top 10 included “Beautiful” ($52.7 million), “Kinky Boots” ($48.8 million), and “Matilda” ($47.9 million), while longrunner “The Phantom of the Opera” ($46.8 million) continued its seemingly never-ending winning streak. Some of this fall’s musicals may end up high on next year’s list, at least to judge from strong fall numbers for Gloria Estefan outing “On Your Feet!” ($13.9 million since starting in October), “School of Rock” ($7.1 million since Nov. 9) and “Fiddler on the Roof” ($6 million since Nov. 20).
As 2015 wrapped up, the next year kicked off in high style with holiday business driving a number of shows to break house records, including “Aladdin” ($2,398,110 for nine), “School of Rock” ($1,671,622 for nine) and magic show “The Illusionists” ($1,801,327 for 13). A whopping 20 shows pulled in more than $1 million apiece last week, and four — “Wicked,” “Lion King” ($2,878,505), “Aladdin” and “Mormon” ($2,024,551) — topped $2 million each.
It’s musicals that tend to benefit most from the year-end tourist boom, though, which can sometimes leave plays out in the cold. Bruce Willis starrer “Misery” ($817,415) and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” ($789,908) did well enough, but Al Pacino topliner “China Doll” ($697,576 for seven) had its weakest frame so far, possibly due to the negative buzz that’s been plaguing the otherwise strong-selling show.
A whole slew of titles closed last week as part of the annual January culling, including “Dames at Sea” ($211,207), “Hand to God” ($425,669 ), “Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games” ($870,337 for nine), “Sylvia” ($391,703), “The Illusionists” and “Therese Raquin” ($370,028 for seven).
The holidays aren’t just strong on Broadway — they’re big business around the country, too. “Wicked” logged the highest-grossing week in North American touring history with $3,285,606 for nine performances in St. Louis, while “Lion King” set a new city high for Chicago, where the musical earned $2,356,724 for nine.
All that extra cash can help sustain shows in the chilly weeks to come, as Broadway braces for an annual fallow stretch that can extend until spring break season.