This article was corrected on May 28, 2003.
NEW YORK — Broadway, the Ride: thrill-packed opening, scary plummet in the middle, dashing if not splashy finish.
In the end, and despite its ups and downs, the 2002-03 Broadway season set a B.O. record.
Receipts for the 52 weeks totaled $720,578,750, up $78.05 million or 12.14% from 2001-02. That 9/11-impaired season was the first in a decade not to improve on the previous year.
This season put Broadway back on the upswing, and even managed to beat the $665,421,002 recorded during 2000-01.
But a look at other numbers paints a less rosy picture.
Paid attendance came in at 11,388,848. That’s up 430,416 or 3.92% from a year ago, but down about 500,000 from what Broadway was packing in during the 2000-01 season.
Most ominous: Average ticket price went from $58.63 last season to $63.80 in 2002-03, the biggest increase in more than 20 years.
Other numbers were more encouraging. Thirty-five shows opened during 2002-03, the same as last season, but up from 28 in 2000-01 and 33 in 1999-2000.
Playing weeks came to 1,501, up 71 weeks from 2001-02 and up 16 weeks from 2000-01. This season’s 77.5% theater occupancy also represented an improvement. It was 72.4% in 2001-02 and had been stuck at a 75% plateau for the preceding three seasons.
The season began with a bang back in August — actually, two bangs.
“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” with Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci, was an immediate success that quickly went on to set house records at the Belasco Theater.
August also marked the preem of “Hairspray,” which appears destined to grace many more seasons. Once the September doldrums disappeared, the new tuner joined such holdovers as “The Lion King,” “Mamma Mia!” and “The Producers” to form Broadway’s newly minted million-dollar club: For a few weeks last year, each of them grossed seven figures per session.
Elsewhere, “Movin’ Out” opened strong in October, and December saw no fewer than seven preems, pushing the Christmas session (Dec. 23-29) to a boffo $21.35 million, an all-time high for any seven-day period.
So much for the spectacular portion of the Broadway ride.
Off to poor start
Downbeat reviews and horrendous pans, respectively, made early casualties of two of those December openings, “Imaginary Friends” and “Dance of the Vampires,” the season’s biggest dud. It didn’t help that Gotham endured old-fashioned winter weather (it actually snowed!) this January/February. And there was talk of war in the Middle East. Yet, in spite of a nation-wide orange alert, Valentine’s week (Feb. 10-17) defied all those negatives to produce a record-setting $14.74 million.
From there, it all came crashing down.
Come spring, overall receipts fell precipitously to dollar levels not seen in three or four years. Revivals “Oklahoma!” and “Flower Drum Song” called it quits.
New shows either got trounced by the crix (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Urban Cowboy”) or failed to develop glam legs (“Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam,” “La Boheme,” “Take Me Out”) worthy of their critical reception.
Biz did perk up for a good if not grand finale. It was nice to see “Les Miserables” perform near capacity again before its 6,680th and final perf. An Oscar for the movie “Chicago” pushed the stage show to set house records at the Ambassador.
Star-studded revival “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” produced weekly receipts of $592,633 (May 12-18), the highest grossing session for any play this season. And Al Pacino proved people will pay to see him in almost anything, and that includes a reading of Oscar Wilde’s “Salome.”
The new revivals “Nine” and “Gypsy,” if not performing at the very top of the B.O. chart, are poised for a Tony Award photo finish.