B’Way B.O. boffo

Sales rise, grosses up 10% in record year

The legit biz may be abuzz about that little musical starring Messrs. Bialystock and Bloom, but Broadway has even more good news to celebrate this week: The 2000-2001 season, which ended Sunday, set a new box office record.

That in itself isn’t an anomaly these days: This makes the 10th straight season that Broadway has set a new B.O. record. But this season’s leap was particularly large: The total gross stood at $665,421,002, up a hefty 10.4% over the previous season.

In recent years, the size of the seasonal increase has been shrinking — from 11% to 5% to just 2.5% last year. Thus this year’s return to a double-digit number is good news indeed.

Also good news is the record-setting attendance figure: Paid attendance for the 2000-2001 Broadway season was 11,937,962, an all-time high that bested the record established in 1998-99. This season’s figures rose a healthy 5% from last year, when paid attendance came in at 11,365,309.

With “The Producers’ ” $100 top ticket price causing no small amount of grumbling in the industry, small wonder that about half the gross increase could be attributed to rising ticket prices. The average price has jumped approximately $3 per season since 1998-99: It reached $55.73 in 2000-01 after being $53.02 last season and $50.68 the previous season.

Theater occupancy, meanwhile, remains relatively unchanged, holding at 75.2% in 1998-99, 75.1% last season and 75.2% this season.

The only falloff for the season came in the number of productions opening: 28 new productions opened on Broadway in 2000-01, down from 33 the previous season. On the other hand, the number of playing weeks for this season rose, to 1,485 from 1,452.

The season began strongly, outpacing the previous season by up to 20% throughout the summer and fall months. “Contact,” “Copenhagen” and “The Music Man” were strong carry-overs that opened late in the 1999-2000 frame. Also, two long-running tuners announced closing dates just as the summer began, which produced sold-out perfs for “Cats” and strongly attended ones for “Miss Saigon” in the fall and early winter.

Fall 2000 brought “The Full Monty” and three new plays — “The Dinner Party,” “Proof” and “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” — that continue to perform strongly. And the revival of Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin’s “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” quickly recouped.

In winter 2001, however, B.O. began to fall approximately 10% below record levels set a year earlier. Reba McEntire resuscitated “Annie Get Your Gun,” but “Seussical” and “Jane Eyre” struggled. The Winter Garden, home to “Cats,” sat empty and won’t be occupied until “Mamma Mia!” takes up occupancy in the fall.

March and April entries such as “A Class Act,” “Bells Are Ringing,” “Blast!,” “Follies,” “George Gershwin Alone,” “The Invention of Love,” “King Hedley II” and “Stones in His Pockets” did not generate tremendous B.O. heat, while “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “The Gathering” and “Judgment at Nuremberg” abruptly called it quits.

The revival of “42nd Street” opened on May 2, last day of the season, and continues to build to its one-million-dollar gross potential.

But the exception to the end-of-the-season doldrums remains “The Producers,” which promptly dethroned “The Lion King” in the B.O. department.

Every new season could do worse than the twin anchors of these two tuners.

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