B’way biz worth $749 mil in 2004

Tally up 3.2% from 2003, ticket sales up 2.2% to 11.3 mil

There’s always something to muck up Broadway’s year-end grosses. In 2003, it was the four-day musicians’ strike. In 2004, it was the Republican National Convention. So let’s call it a wash.

Broadway’s trade org, the League of American Theaters & Producers, reported a $748.9 million gross for 2004. The tally is up 3.2% from 2003’s $725.4 million. The number of Broadway tix sold came to 11.3 million, up 230,000 or 2.2% from 2003.

Unlike the rest of showbiz, Broadway measures its economic health from June to June, with the Tony Awards capping the season. So far the 2004-05 season is not off to an auspicious start.

Broadway has attained a $419 million gross to date for the 2004-05 season, compared to $422 million for the first seven months of the 2003-04 season. Ticket sales also are down for this season’s first half: 6.32 million ducats sold for 2004-05, vs. 6.34 million for 2003-04.

A release from the League gave the following explanation for the downtick: “This slight decrease in grosses may be attributed to an unusual number of one-person shows this season, which generally charge lower ticket prices. These shows have replaced a handful of musicals, which were running last fall but have since closed.”

Not cited by the org were the adverse effects of the Republican Convention, which depressed Gotham tourism for the entire month of August. Two shows, “Frozen” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” closed midmonth rather than run through the traditionally lucrative Labor Day weekend. The September holiday session in 2003 produced receipts of $13.8 million, compared with just $10.9 million in 2004.

Analyzing half a season is never fair. Unlike the movies, there is no typical release schedule for plays and musicals.

The 2002-03 season started strong with “Hairspray,” “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and “Movin’ Out,” then marked time until the spring arrivals of “Nine” and “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” In 2003, the early entries “Avenue Q” and “Wicked” did not reach their full B.O. potential until the following summer.

Even on paper, Broadway’s current season looked weak in the fall and strong in the spring, with more than 20 plays and musicals skedded to preem in the next six months. Blame the imbalance on financing, creative schedules, theater availability, etc.

In reality, fall 2004 ended up being every bit as tepid B.O.-wise as observers expected. Most weeks in October-November 2004 ran $1 million-$2 million under levels established in 2003 and 2002.

The 2004 fall lineup produced one surprise hit: The Roundabout’s staging of “Twelve Angry Men” has turned into the company’s longest-running show at the American Airlines Theater.

A few shows recouped in 2004. The winners included “Aida,” “Avenue Q,” “The Boy From Oz,” “Movin’ Out,” “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Wicked.”