Beating B.O. blahs

3 B'way shows getting warm post-holiday reception

NEW YORK — The Broadway grosses for the week after New Year’s are never pretty. They spelled doom for “Taboo,” and put a few other B.O. weaklings on the endangered list.

But three new shows came up winners.

“It was a very good week for ‘Avenue Q,’ ” says producer Kevin McCollum. His show dropped about $90,000 from New Year’s week, but at $403,970 put in its best nonholiday sesh to date.

Same for Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife,” which fell just $12,093 to gross $186,046. Not only is that a nonholiday high, it beat the box office for plays “Golda’s Balcony,” “Anna in the Tropics” and “The Return From Moscow.” Whoever thought “Wife” would be the No. 1 new play on Broadway?

“It could have gone either way. The creative team looked at every Off Broadway house and none felt exactly right,” says producer David Richenthal. “The Lyceum felt right.” (In an unusual move, the theater’s second balcony has been closed for the run of “Wife,” which translates into an intimate 670 seats.)

The success of “Wife” and “Avenue Q” is bad news for Off Broadway, which has a heap of empty theaters. Advice to wanna-bes: Raise another $1 million and produce your show on Broadway.

McCollum says he and his partners Robyn Goodman and Jeffrey Seller had no choice. “‘Avenue Q’ was not produceable Off Broadway,” he says. Many said the tiny tuner wouldn’t work in a Broadway house. “They said the same thing about ‘Rent.’ But you need a venue large enough to pay the talent.”

Since opening at the Golden Theater in July, “Avenue Q” has run at least five figures above its weekly break-even. Given its rave reviews, one might have expected more dollars right out of the gate.

“We discovered that a lot of people didn’t know what the show was,” McCollum says. A spoof of “Sesame Street”? A dirty puppet show? “Only word of mouth could convey that it was a real musical.”

Recent big pluses: “Avenue Q” made several year-end top-10 lists, and the Clintons paid a visit in December.

“Wife” had its own image problems: Nazis, Communists, a transvestite informer.

“Sounds grim,” Richenthal says. To convey a more upbeat, if not downright campy, mood, Richenthal wore a dress to the opening-night party, theatergoers receive plastic pearl necklaces and a discount program advertises “Bring your own husband to ‘I Am My Own Wife’ and get a free ticket.”

As for early January’s third winner, “Wicked” is the kind of big $1 million-a-week musical that fuels Broadway’s engine. The show’s $1,018,069 gross for Jan. 5-11 proves it’s no yo-yo tuner (a la “The Boy From Oz,” “42nd Street,” “Little Shop”) given to huge B.O. fluctuations from week to week.

In recent memory, other hit tuners of this size have come to Broadway without a British or movie pedigree. Based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, “Wicked” deconstructs “The Wizard of Oz.” The show’s poster of two witches capitalized on the connection, as does its tagline, “So much happened before Dorothy dropped in.”

“Beyond that, we haven’t gone to ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” says lead producer Marc Platt. “Part of the show’s fun are its hidden surprises.

“As a movie guy, I took my cue from ‘The Crying Game,’ ” says Platt, producer of the “Legally Blonde” movies. “The marketing of that film kept its surprise ending — the girl is a guy — a secret.”

Otherwise, the show has an enormous nostalgic pull for adults, and kids fill the matinees. Group sales for schools have more than doubled since previews.

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