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Broadway on the rise in 2012

Grosses continue upward trend, attendance climbs, too

Broadway continued to inch upward in 2012, not only in terms of grosses — an unsurprising trend, given inflation and the widespread presence of premium-priced seating — but, encouragingly, in terms of attendance as well.

Calendar years don’t mean as much to Broadway bookkeepers, who tend to concentrate on the May-to-May season sked as the definitive circle of B.O. life. Still, the numbers can provide a good midseason barometer, and the 2012 figures indicate that despite concerns regarding the lingering attendance dip following superstorm Sandy — as well as insider carping about a mediocre fall season — Broadway biz continued to rise year-to-year.

By Variety’s tallies, sales for the 53-week period beginning Dec. 26, 2011 and ending Dec. 30, 2012 nudged up to $1.196 billion — although the Broadway League has come up with a different tally, $1.158 billion for 52 weeks, based on an accounting change that shifts the periodic 53-week annual sesh from 2012, as originally planned, back to 2010.

Attendance, per Variety’s 53-week frame, climbed to 12.48 million, up from 12.13 million in 2011 and 12.11 million in 2010. Attendance also rose compared with the 2011 frame in the League’s accounting, which rang in 12.16 million theatergoers during the 52-week window.

Variety’s 2012 tallies are boosted, of course, by the boffo figures from the 2011 holiday week that are rolled into the 53-week annum. But no matter when you slot in the 53rd week, box office has trended up year-to-year over the past several years.

Among individual shows, “Wicked” remained at the top of the list, logging $96.6 million for the 53-week year. That marks the ninth consecutive calendar year in which the tuner has been the top grosser, a record it continues to hold despite increasing competish from a resurgent “Lion King,” which pulled in $94.5 million.

At $84.6 million, “The Book of Mormon” is no slouch either, especially since that show’s in a significantly smaller house (1,066 seats) than either “Wicked” (1,809) or “The Lion King” (1,677).

Productions that opened during the year are hindered when compared with those that ran all 53 weeks, but Tony champ “Once” ($40.4 million) and “Newsies” ($39.4 million) nonetheless muscled their way into the Top 10. Ahead of them both was “Evita” ($48.6 million), powered by the B.O.-boosting presence of topliner Ricky Martin.

For shows that open in fall, it can be tough to establish much of a foothold in the year-end charts, although musical “Annie” ($12.8 million from perfs starting Oct. 3) and Al Pacino-topliner “Glengarry Glen Ross” ($11.6 million from an Oct. 19 launch) have been standouts.

As for the potential box office drivers of the coming spring, question marks abound. Among the new musicals, “Matilda” looks like the pre-approved critics’ darling from London, but whether American auds will flock to the dark kids’ tale remains to be seen; “Motown” seems poised to pull in crowds, based on the global popularity of the titular music; and “Kinky Boots” has stirred some pre-Broadway excitement, too. There’s also “Cinderella,” soon to battle “Annie” for the same girl-centric all-ages demo, and “Hands on a Hardbody,” waiting to carve out a profile with consumers.

One thing that’s certain is that there’s no shortage of big-name celebs toplining plays this spring. The only worry may be: How many is too many for the Street to sustain?

Insiders say that, based on advance sales, Tom Hanks in “Lucky Guy” is looking solid, and Scarlett Johansson in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” has so far posted robust biz for a previewing play. Two other formidable performers with the potential to attract crowds, Alec Baldwin (in “Orphans”) and Bette Midler (in “I’ll Eat You Last”), join the lineup later in the spring — along with Nathan Lane, generally considered a solid B.O. draw, starring in “The Nance.”

In the immediate future, there’s the traditionally fallow period of January and early February to contend with. But recent years have seen producers and the Broadway League become more savvy with pricing schemes, with initiatives such as Kids’ Nights on Broadway helping to keep the annual box office cume on the rise.

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