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Legit Critics Sell Broadway Audiences on ‘Matilda’

Much-lauded show rises at box office; 'Motown' up too, no matter what critics say

Sometimes, legit critics still sell tickets. Case in point: “Matilda,” the Broadway transfer of the Brit hit that won Stateside raves after its April 11 opening – and then topped $1 million for the first time last week.

Of course, there was already plenty of momentum building for “Matilda” ($1,129,419), which had come close to joining the millionaires’ club even before it opened. Chalk up the initial strong appeal to the tuner’s girl-centric, family-friendly storyline and aud familiarity with the Roald Dahl novel on which it’s based. Factor in New York critics confirming the buzz the title gained in London, and you’ve got a recipe for a sales spike.

On the other hand, sometimes what the critics say don’t matter much at all. Take “Motown” ($1,151,759), which was back to grossing more than $1 million per sesh despite reviews that mostly ranged from mixed to negative. In this case the titular label’s familiar music, coupled with aud affection for the Motown brand and its major stars, seems to have trumped any pooh-poohing from the critics.

Unlike fellow Hollywood name Tom Hanks (whose toplining gig in “Lucky Guy” pulled in $1,412,001 last week), Bette Midler and her solo show “I’ll Eat You Last” didn’t crack $1 million. But that doesn’t mean the production, which plays in a small-for-Broadway venue of just 777 seats, isn’t doing well: “I’ll Eat You Last” ($686,031 for seven) broke the box office record at the Booth Theater last week, played to capacity crowds and logged an average price paid per ticket of almost $125, a sign of strong demand.

All that has happened even before the show opens April 24; good reviews could help pump sales even more among playgoing auds, the demo that generally tends to pay the most attention to what the critics have to say.

It was a good week overall at the Broadway box office, with upticks at most productions. Any downshifting at individual shows was minor, and most of the dips happened at productions that opened last week, and therefore accommodated a large numbers of comps during press perfs and opening night.

A whopping seven productions opened last week, including “The Nance” ($362,059), “The Big Knife” ($216,091), “The Assembled Parties” ($205,596), “Jekyll and Hyde” ($399,086), “Orphans” ($522,036) and “Macbeth” ($385,394 for six). Concert-performance hybrid “The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream” ($646,622 for five) also opened, and had robust returns to show for it, while “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” ($323,655) closed without much gained in last-minute biz.

Still to open, meanwhile, are “The Testament of Mary” ($189,737 for seven), “The Trip to Bountiful” ($437,718) and “Pippin” ($683,911), along with “I’ll Eat You Last.”

Total Broadway cume climbed about $1.6 million to $24,719,507 for 32 shows on the boards. Overall attendance climbed about 8,000 to 260,240, or about 85% of capacity.

These late-April weeks are often strong for Broadway box office since the boards are traditionally crowded with titles aiming to open before the Tony eligibility cutoff, and the onslaught of openings helps keep the media spotlight focused on legit fare. Look for healthy returns this coming week as well.

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