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Fast-Rising Prices Drive Broadway to $1.6 Billion Year

A pack of ultra-hot shows, combined with the rising prominence and price tags of premium seats, will push the Broadway box office to a new calendar-year record of more than $1.6 billion in 2017.

As sky-high demand for shows like “Hamilton,” “Springsteen on Broadway,” “Hello, Dolly!” and “Dear Evan Hansen” prompts producers to dial up prices on premiums to new heights (with premium tickets for “Hamilton” hitting a record $1,150 this week), Broadway’s blockbuster business has exploded fast enough to induce whiplash. Just last year, the Street’s biggest successes barely topped $100 million apiece in a single 52-week frame; in 2017, “Hamilton” has raked in a whopping $154 million.

Technically, there’s still one more week to go in 2017, which Broadway bookkeepers will count as a 53-week calendar year rather than the usual 52. (The deviation is periodically necessary to line up 365-day years with 52 week-long sales windows that are measured Monday through Sunday.) But with 52 of 2017’s 53 weeks under Broadway’s belt — and the current week poised to be the biggest of the year, thanks to the annual Christmas-New Year’s boom — there’s more than enough data to get a good idea of where the year will end.

For the 52-week frame that finished Dec. 24, Broadway’s cumulative sales rang in at $1.59 billion, with the current week poised to add more than $50 million on top of that. (Last year’s holiday-week tally came within spitting distance of $50 million, and will easily break that record this year.)

As “Hamilton” surpasses $150 million for 2017, “The Lion King” ($107 million) and “Wicked” ($94 million), two of the Street’s most enduring successes, will also land spots on the upper tiers of a Top 10 that’s set to include “Hello, Dolly!” ($83 million), “Aladdin” ($79,564,244), and “Dear Evan Hansen” ($75,014,496), as well as spring sleeper “Come From Away” ($53 million). (All figures are almost but not quite complete, with tallies from the still-unfinished current week still to be added.)

There were plenty of stars on the boards, but no box office giants along the lines of Denzel Washington (lined up for this spring in “The Iceman Cometh”), so the top-selling playing of 2017 was the little comedy that could, “The Play That Goes Wrong” ($15.6 million), which opened in April and has sold modestly but steadily ever since. The limited runs of Kevin Kline headliner “Present Laughter” ($12.4 million) and “Oslo” ($10.9 million), both Tony winners, also made marks.

One of Broadway’s biggest sellers, “Springsteen on Broadway,” opened in October and has so far pulled in a huge $26 million from just 55 performances. Thanks to a top ticket of $850, the average price paid for a seat to the show now stands at $496, with “Hamilton” ($275), “Hello, Dolly!” ($187), and “Dear Evan Hansen” ($180) also among the spendiest on the Street.

From one perspective, the rapid rise of Broadway’s grosses just represents an official, on-the-books record of earnings that would otherwise be going to the secondary market, without the premium pricing that gives resellers some competition. But as premium price tags spiral higher and higher, many in the industry worry that the theater business is in danger of pricing itself out of the reach of all but the wealthiest consumers.

Broadway’s 2017 calendar year ends Sunday, Dec. 31, with holiday-week tallies due to be tabulated and released Jan. 2.

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