×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway’s Season of Famine and Feast

The year’s uneven output leaves grosses and attendance down, but primes pump for a road bonanza

Judging by numbers alone, the 2012-13 Broadway season was kind of a bummer. Sales and, even more notably, attendance were down.

So why is the nation’s network of road presenters so excited?

There are a handful of factors that contributed to the slippage in Rialto numbers last season, but the most important was a backloaded sked. With most of the season taken up by what many observers saw as a largely uninspiring trickle of new product, the dam burst in the spring with a flood of commercially muscular titles including “Motown,” “Kinky Boots,” “Matilda,” “Lucky Guy,” “Cinderella,” “Pippin” and “I’ll Eat You Last.”

It’s rare to get so many B.O. standouts from a whole season, much less a couple of months in the spring. And it’s a bounty that will benefit the touring biz for years to come.

“The road couldn’t be happier,” says Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, exec director of ASU Gammage, the arts presenter on the Tempe campus of Arizona State U. The area is one of the country’s biggest markets for touring Broadway fare. “For 2014-15 and the season after that, we know we’re looking at a lot of great work.”

For the most part, road presenters expect these shows to draw crowds at regional venues for the same reasons they’re doing so on Broadway. Tuners “Kinky Boots” and “Matilda” have the imprimatur of neck-and-neck Tony nominations; “Cinderella” and “Annie,” the only fall opener still on the boards, are familiar properties with built-in all-ages appeal; stock and amateur staple “Pippin” has a special place in the hearts of legions of legit avids; and “Motown,” given the international profile of the titular label and its tunes, seemingly sells itself.

It’s a stark difference from the fall, when the future wasn’t looking so hot. Of open-ended tuners, only “Annie” turned heads at the box office, while new titles “Chaplin” and “Scandalous” had both shuttered by early January.

“I don’t think any of us thought six months ago that we’d have six or seven shows rolling out,” says Al Nocciolino, the Broadway League’s road vice chair.

The quick closures of the open-ended runs of “Chaplin” and “Scandalous” — alongside other of the season’s disappointments, including musical “Hands on a Hardbody” and plays “The Performers,” “Orphans” and “The Testament of Mary” — helped keep the 2012-13 tally of playing weeks, the cumulative total of frames played by each title over the 52-week season, down to 1,430, the lowest number in some 15 years.

The 6.2% year-to-year drop in attendance from 12.33 million to 11.57 million was about on par with the 6% decline in playing weeks (down from 1,522 in 2011-12). There’s also some truth to the assertion that the damages wrought by Superstorm Sandy hampered attendance from the suburbs and the tri-state area, particularly in the weeks immediately following the storm.

But as the late-breaking surge in product and box office proved, theatergoers remain willing to show up — and, in some cases, pony up, at premium prices — for the new titles they want to see.

The late-spring abundance of the 2012-13 season is a different phenomenon from “The Book of Mormon,” the 2011 smash that benefited Broadway by returning the Rialto to the pop-culture conversation, and also boosted the road with a hot title that would encourage subscriptions to entire touring seasons.

This season, rather than a single juggernaut title, the current crop represents a grab-bag of productions that can appeal to a variety of audiences and demographics. It’s the kind of lineup that features something for everyone. Based on sales over the past month, “Motown,” “Kinky Boots” and “Matilda” could potentially keep logging boffo Broadway B.O. well into the summer and beyond.

Industry tubthumpers have long extolled Broadway’s growing variety of titles for an expanding crowd of demographics. Take the array of 2012-13’s successes, combine it with the Rialto’s range of enduring shows from “Wicked” to “Mormon” to “Once,” and this season might just be the one to prove the point.

More Legit

  • Ethan Hawke

    Listen: Ethan Hawke on 'True West' and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.” That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play. “I kind of felt that that [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Kaye Ballard, Star of 'The Mothers-in-Law,' Dies at 93

    Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93. She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show [...]

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content