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‘August’ heats Broadway

Tally looks poised to climb past $1 million

“August: Osage County” hit around $650,000 in ticket sales Wednesday, the day the 3½-hour Broadway play scored a slew of raves in the Gotham press.

Tally, reported by producer Jeffrey Richards, looked poised to climb past $1 million Thursday.

Biz for Steppenwolf Theater’s production of “August,” which opened Tuesday at the Imperial Theater, is unusually high for a straight play, a legit genre that tends to attract smaller auds than razzle-dazzle tuners.

“It’s a huge number for a play,” said Philip J. Smith, prexy of the Shubert Org, which owns the Imperial along with 15 other Rialto houses. “It’s almost like a musical.”

In Smith’s estimation, the last time a Broadway play achieved a similarly boffo post-opening figure was the original 1984 production of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing,” starring Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close, which wrapped around $200,000 the day after the showopened.

Bustling B.O. is a relief for “August,” one of three plays that did not open on its originally skedded date (Nov. 20) due to the recent stagehands strike. Plays are particularly reliant on word of mouth to help drive sales, and the 19 dark days of the shutdown were a major blow to the tix momentum of “August,” along with fellow non-tuners “The Seafarer” and “Is He Dead?”

Reviews also were expected to play an important role in selling “August,” a show with no big-name stars to draw crowds. Play is a Rialto debut for scribe Tracy Letts, best known for Off Broadway hits “Killer Joe” and “Bug.”

Plot centers on a volatile Oklahoma family reuniting after the disappearance of its patriarch. Helmed by Anna D. Shapiro, production preemed last summer at Chicago’s Steppenwolf and earned glowing reviews.

Gotham transfer, which stars 11 of the 13 Chi thesps, is produced by Richards, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler and Jerry Frankel, among others.

Booming B.O. seems likely to fuel awards talk for cast members (including Amy Morton and Deanna Dunagan) and keep alive the early Pulitzer buzz that originated in Chicago.

If sales keep up, the run could extend past the planned Feb. 17 closing, although not indefinitely — “Billy Elliot” is tipped to head into the Imperial in fall 2008.

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