B’way rings heady holiday bell

Spate of closings precedes traditionally chilly season

Broadway rang in the New Year in typically festive fashion, garnering year-high numbers for a weekly frame.

The B.O. total for the 30 shows was a heady $20,449,860, up 6.8% from the preceding week, itself a healthy one. The total missed setting a new Broadway record by a little less than $1 million. During Christmas week 2002, 33 shows took in $21.35 million.

The week’s paid attendance figure of 267,711 represented about 90% of total Broadway capacity. The number, while strong, is about 7.4% lower than the figure for the record-setting Christmas week.

House records were set up and down Broadway, as the general upward trend in ticket prices was added to the annual price hikes for New Year’s Eve performances.

At the top of the heap, as expected, was “The Producers.” Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane returned to the show Dec. 30, and demand for tickets for their three-month stint has, naturally, been strong.

The tuner set a new Broadway record for a weekly gross of roughly $1.6 million at the St. James. That total was helped by a top ticket price on New Year’s Eve of a staggering $600. The producers did, however, have to scale back their plans to mint money from the stars’ return: A planned $1,500-a-person dinner party package for the night was scrapped when there weren’t enough takers.

Five other shows set house records: “Avenue Q” at the Golden, the seemingly indestructible “Beauty and the Beast” at the Lunt-Fontanne, “The Boy From Oz” at the Imperial, “Mamma Mia!” at the Winter Garden and “Wicked” at the Gershwin. (Of course, as ticket prices continue to climb, house records are broken with some regularity.)

The New Year’s frame proved a suitably festive finale for the long-running revival of Kander & Ebb’s “Cabaret,” which closed Jan. 4 at Studio 54 after 2,378 performances. It enters the record books as the second-longest-running revival in Broadway history. No. 1, at 3,967 and counting, is still on the boards: Kander & Ebb’s “Chicago,” which got its umpteenth Roxie, movie ingenue Gretchen Mol, Jan. 5.

Richard Greenberg’s Tony-winning “Take Me Out” also played its last inning on Broadway. The show had a nearly yearlong run, but it still didn’t recoup its capitalization. Opening in the winter doldrums in February after a long fall run at the Public Theater, the show took its time to find its swing on Broadway.

Only when it swept most of the best-play nods at the end of the season did its grosses climb into the profit-making territory. It did, however, go out with a bang, rising by $127,333 in its final frame to a strong $351,023 gross for a nine-performance week.

With three fewer shows on the boards (“The Caretaker” at the American Airlines Theater also ended its limited run Jan. 4), the way is cleared — at least somewhat — for languishing shows to get a fighting chance at the winter B.O.

And there are more previously announced closings to come: “Urinetown” exits Henry Miller’s Theater Jan. 18, as one of Broadway’s last remaining unrenovated theaters goes under the wrecking ball. And Lincoln Center Theater’s production of “Henry IV” must close Jan. 18 at the Vivian Beaumont — despite heavy demand for tickets for Jack O’Brien’s acclaimed staging — to make way for another big slice of Shakespeare, “King Lear,” starring Christopher Plummer. (“Henry” grossed nearly $600,000 for the holiday frame.)

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which despite poor reviews has proved to be the strongest-selling play of the fall season (“Henry” aside), ends its limited run Feb. 22.

Certainly there are plenty of shows looking to benefit from the slimmer competish.

New Year’s Eve week wasn’t particularly kind to Broadway’s struggling crop of new plays, for instance. “The Retreat From Moscow” managed a small uptick of $11,614, but it has seen its B.O. eroding over the fall. It took $179,051 for the holiday frame.

“Anna in the Tropics” did slightly better, grossing $199,155, but it fell by a scary $38,045 in the holiday week, an ominous sign considering the tough sledding ahead. Also down for the week were “Golda’s Balcony” (down $11,344 to $200,039) and “I Am My Own Wife” (off $6,411 to $198,130).

The news isn’t much better for some of the fall’s new musicals. “Wicked” is making big numbers, and “The Boy From Oz” continues to sell strongly on the strength of Hugh Jackman’s name (the producers are taking the unusual step of shutting down when he goes on vacation). But “Never Gonna Dance” and “Taboo” look shaky, particularly the latter, which grossed just $364,009 for the New Year’s week, less than half of potential. A new full-page New York Times ad unveiled Jan. 4 may begin a last-ditch marketing push to save the show.

Some producers may be pinning their hopes for winter survival on the new “Season of Savings” promotional campaign, which offers discounts of up to 50% on virtually all of the new shows, and many old ones. Mass mailings were included in newspapers on the first Sunday of the new year, and now the anxious wait for results begins. One thing is clear: There are, as usual, plenty of candidates in need of saving this season.

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