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Broadway Box Office: A Mild Labor Day Slump as ‘Play’ Hits Top 10

The week after Labor Day is always a tough one on Broadway. But although this year did see some sales slippage, the falloff looks a lot less dire than it would have five or 10 years ago, as seven shows topped the $1 million mark last week including new hot ticket “It’s Only a Play.”

In recent years Broadway’s gotten a lot better at adjusting pricing and other variables to keep business relatively healthy in traditionally fallow periods, with initiatives like Broadway Week — the two-for-one ticket offers that runs this fall from Sept. 1-14 — helping to draw in theatergoers even after the summer’s tourist tide dries up. So even while almost every individual title posted a decline last week, many of them were fairly manageable, all things considered, as overall Broadway cume slipped about $3 million, or 13%, to $19.8 million for 24 shows on the boards. Attendance slipped just 12,000 to 203,128.

Only one show bucked the downward trend, and that was “It’s Only a Play” ($1,163,626), the starry comedy that laughed all the way to the No. 6  slot of the Top 10. Helping to keep cash registers ringing is the production’s starry cast led by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, a pairing that’s always a reliable ticketseller (“The Producers”), along with Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint, Stockard Channing and F. Murray Abraham.

The early success of “Only a Play” helps get the fall season up and running, with the first autumn opener, “This Is Our Youth” (pictured, above), pulling in $367,207 in the week ahead of its Sept. 11 opening night. Another previewing play revival, “You Can’t Take It With You” ($490,887), stayed afloat thanks to a cast that includes James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne, while “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” with new star Andrew Rannells, softened but posted a still-decent $514,411. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” sat out the week entirely, scheduling a hiatus that ends Sept. 9.

But a fair number of shows stood up to the hits they took: “Wicked,” for one, fell more than $365,000 but still had $1,340,668 million to show for it. Some titles, on the other hand, fared less well, as shows including “If/Then” ($589,923), “Once” ($420,739), “Pippin” ($492,718) and  “Cinderella” ($458,836, ahead of guest stars joining this week) each bringing in less than half of its weekly gross potential. “Matilda” ($803,129), with its all-ages target audience likely to have gone back to school this week, also took a pretty severe blow.

In a mark of how low overall Broadway ticket demand fell at summer’s end, the average paid admission plummeted by almost $10 to $97.69.

However, given the predictability of the back-to-school slide, every show on the Broadway slate must have been expecting to get hit. From a silver-lining perspective, things look poised to go only up from here, as plays including “The Country House” and London hit “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” start performances this week.

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