Broadway’s Record-Breaking Summer Finally Comes To An End
Lee Seymour , CONTRIBUTOR
OCT 3, 2017
As Hollywood crashed and burned over the summer, rescued only recently by the monster-clown hit IT, Broadway has been having a ball. The only things floating here are the grosses.
For thirty-two straight weeks, Broadway’s box office eclipsed its own high water marks. Grosses are measured weekly, Sunday-Sunday, and since March each has seen record high numbers compared to the same frame in years past.
Last week marked the first break in that streak, as the industry total of $23.2m was just under 2014’s $23.24m. It was a narrow margin, though, and with two shows slated to to begin previews next week (The Band’s Visit and Junk), it’s likely that 2017 will go back to its record-shattering ways soon.
How did this happen? A glut of content is behind the big numbers, with an average of five additional shows on the docket all summer compared to last year. Huge premium prices for shows like Hamilton and Hello, Dolly! also goosed sales.
It’s no surprise, then, that the shows charging top dollar stayed at the top of the heap, even as grosses overall slid. Hamilton has been the biggest moneymaker on Broadway all year, taking $117 million so far, or $2.9m each week. A premium seat will set you back a staggering $849.
Thanks to Bette Midler’s star power, Hello, Dolly! has stayed right behind since opening this spring. And yes, it is thanks to Ms. Midler – whenever she takes a week off, grosses collapse. The almost-as-staggering $748 price tag doesn’t hurt either (though your wallet may beg to differ).
Disney has long had something of a stranglehold on Broadway’s coffers. Until Hamilton, The Lion King was the industry’s top earner – at $6.2 billion globally, it’s also the highest grossing musical of all time. Though not nearly as critically adored, Aladdin has also sold well since opening in 2014. Both shows are usually in the top five highest earners, alongside Wicked.
This week, however, 2017 Tony winner Dear Evan Hanseneclipsed both Aladdin ($1.3m) and Wicked ($1.4m) and took the #4 slot, with $1.68m. It’s especially impressive given that Hansen is running in the Music Box Theater, which is about 800 seats smaller than either of them.
Worth noting, perhaps, is that of these shows, three feature casts predominantly made up of people of color. In fact, of the eight shows currently grossing over $1 million, half of them have casts partially – or mostly – made up of non-white performers. And before self-destructing due to mismanagement, The Great Comet counted itself among them.
Every other show is sort of lumped together below these, which speaks to a deeper issue at play on the Rialto. The adage ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ has been proven here to be unequivocally false. Yes, overall grosses have gone up this year as a few shows skyrocketed, but the turnover of Broadway theaters remains constant and fraught. In fact, it’s worse this year than any in recent memory.
At the end of last summer, over a third of running shows were slated to close by the year’s end. Between August 1st and December 31st of 2017, a whopping eleven shows (of 31) will take their final bow.
These don’t include several non-profit productions, or potentially another commercial musical. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory seems to be bracing for rough times ahead; grosses have plummeted alarmingly over the last month, down to 40% of its gross potential. Chances are it will stay open through the holidays to reap massive tourist bucks, but beyond that the future is hazy. It was the only show to drop six figures this week.
The split between haves and have-nots will only widen this season as several more mega-properties move in, squishing other “normal” shows down. Spongebob Squarepants, Frozen and Harry Potter are all set to surf the tide of premium prices as others scramble for lifeboats.