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PLAYS! REVIVALS! $1.1 BIL IN TIX!

A host of major playwrights abandoned the Rialto during the 1994-95 season, but patrons didn’t follow suit: Attendance at Broadway theaters passed the 9 million mark for the first time in 13 seasons.

And the wallets of the 9,044,763 ticket-buyers were exceedingly generous: Receipts for the season rang in at an all-time high of $406,306,661, a 14% jump over the previous season’s then-record-setting $356,034,160.

(The Broadway trade group, the League of American Theaters and Producers, compiles its own Broadway figures and put total B.O. slightly lower than Variety’s calculations – $406.1 million – and attendance at 9,038,977, discrepancies due chiefly to variations in estimated figures throughout the year.)

For the second consecutive season, combined receipts from Broadway and the North American touring shows bounded past the $1 billion point. With road receipts of $694,577,296 – a slight 1% increase over the previous year – the Broadway-road combo was another record-breaker: $1,100,883,957, a 5.4% boost over the combined receipts from the 1993-94 season.

New productions slip

Broadway’s big season came despite considerable talk about the paltry number of new shows. Figures bear out the grumbling: Only 29 new productions hit the boards during 1994-95, a 22% drop from the previous year’s 37 productions. And two of those 29 were limited-run return engagements: Spalding Gray’s “Gray’s Anatomy” and Patrick Stewart’s “A Christmas Carol.” Three others were specialty attractions: “The Flying Karamazov Brothers Do the Impossible!,” “Comedy Tonight” and “Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman.”

The slimmest category of Broadway productions – no news, in the wake of the Tony nominations roster – was new musicals, “Sunset Boulevard” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” being the entire list. Musical revivals tallied just three: “Show Boat,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and the nonprofit “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

By comparison, new plays were numerous – there were eight – but critics and audiences were picky. Discounting the nonprofit “Arcadia” at Lincoln Center, only “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” a low-cost Broadway Alliance production, had recouped its investment by season’s end, although “Indiscretions” may follow suit during the new season. “Having Our Say” stands a decent chance too.

On the down side

But “On the Waterfront,” “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” and “My Thing of Love” died in the red. “A Tuna Christmas,” a touring production that stopped in New York for a limited run last December, had already recouped its initial investment prior to hitting Gotham.

Nearly all of the 11 play revivals came from the nonprofit sector, the exceptions being “Translations” (a flop) and “Hamlet” starring Ralph Fiennes (which hadn’t recouped by season’s end but almost certainly will end its run in the black).

A few holdovers from ’93-94 ended their runs, some more happily than others. Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” didn’t recoup its investment, prompting Simon to direct his gaze Off Broadway. Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” closed without recouping, but producers expect the current road tour to pay off the Broadway investors within the year. “An Inspector Calls” fell short of payback, but “Tommy,” expected to continue running through the summer, returned its investment last fall.

If new product wasn’t exactly plentiful, the 9 million Broadway-goers might have been enticed by, yes, ticket prices. That’s not to say the average cost of a Broadway seat didn’t go up – of course it did, from $43.87 in 1993-94 to $44.92 in ’94-95. But that’s a smaller increase (2.4%) than in recent years: The previous season’s jump was double that. The short jump is most likely the result of the pervasiveness of plays, rather than expensive musicals, during the recent season.

Outside Gotham, the road circuit continued its ever-increasing box office tallies, even if the advances were considerably smaller than in recent seasons. The $694,577,296 total represents a 1% hike over the 1993-94 season (a season that bounded 11% over the ’92-93 year). Total playing weeks – the figure that represents the number of productions playing during any given week – totaled 1,312 for the year, a decrease of 3% from the previous season.

Even so, the road accounted for 63% of the $1.1 billion combined receipt tally, a figure that continues the road’s six-year B.O. dominance over Broadway.

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