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May 06 2019

Box Office Special - Broadway Grosses Post Tony Nominations

by Nathaniel R

With the movie box office being so boring these past two weeks (surprise:Avengers: Endgameis still sucking up all the money in the world) we're turning to Broadway grosses,which we never discuss,for a detour.Why?Well,just to see how quicklythe Tony nominationsmake a difference.This is purely anecdotal but on the various discount apps and sites that you can belong to you start noticing the shows that fared poorly on each year's nomination morning almost immediately popping up at discounted rates.If a show sells out,even through heavily discounted tickets,it surely kills the sting of being shunned for awards.

If you aren't well-versed in Broadway the grosses are a bit complicated so bear with us as we try to explain...

Since Broadway shows are in different size theaters and charge different prices their box office takes are quite a lot more complicated than the movies (which cost the same per ticket no matter what their budget is or whether you're seeing them on the smallest or largest screen your multiplex has to offer).With Broadway shows it's not only about who is grossing most but who is in most demand and how much they're charging for seats.The prices always sound daunting from afar but they're not quite as exorbitant as they sound.For example I have only paid full price two or three times in my life (out of desperation).Every once in awhile I'm invited (heaven / free) but mostly I'm seeing shows for around $49-70 (there are multiple ways to see a show at a cheaper rate if you're flexible with your time and are willing to miss shows if they're overpriced which I always am).Insanely high "average ticket price"mostly means that tourists are seeing that show all the time or its a very limited run with a big star and/or that the sales teams have managed to sell a block of tickets at "premium rates"...a relatively new phenomenon (that we think started withThe Producersin the Aughts but is now attempted for every show)  to capitalize on the uber wealthy or people who apparently have money to just casually burn because paying anywhere from $207 (Chicago) to $849 (Hamilton) a seat when others are seeing the same shows for much much less is insane.What's more a stage show has operating costs every week on top of its budget,unlike the movies,so you have to reach a certain threshold each week to even break even from your operating costs,let alone making a dent toward eventually reaching a profit with budgets often in the millions.

Wicked's Broadway show still regularly grosses between $1.5 million and $2.5 million a week.With its tours and productions in other cities the show has earned literally billions of dollars combined.

If Broadway box office JUST went by top gross,as movie box office does,it would be the most boring box office charts imaginable because the same shows stay at the top for not just weeks but for years and sometimes even decades.For exampleThe Lion King(approaching its 22nd anniversary),Wicked(approaching its 16th anniversary),andHamilton(approaching its 4th anniversary) all earn between $1-4 million every week (fluctuating by the season) and have for years so they'd always be at or near the very top.

So we're going to talk about the new shows in relation to what capacity of the theater they're filling and their average ticket price,the two things that,when combined with advanced ticket sales (which we aren't privvy to),show you how well the show is doing.If a show is over 100% it's selling standing-room in addition to filling every seat.If a show has a low average ticket price it's offering discounts to get it as close as possible to feeling like a full house (shows nearly always play better with a full audience -- this is live theater we're talking about.)

There are 41 Broadway theaters in operation.25 of them are currently home to musicals  only one of which has a closing date (Kiss Me Kate) at the moment.Only two new musicals have locked in dates for the 2019/2020 season and they're both jukebox scores so they won't be eligible for Best Score next year at this time:Moulin Rouge!which starts previews on June 28th andJagged Little Pillwhich begins previews on November 3rd.

For this box office report,we're just looking at the 11 newest musicals still running that were eligible for Tonys this season.

Hadestown(14 nominations) Opened April 17th,2019.
Last week the nomination leader was playing at 100.9 % capacity with an average ticket price of $129.36 and grossed $959k.After the nominations: a noticeable uptick with the show having its first cool million grossing week and playing to 101.21% capacity with an average ticket price of $142.It has a lucrative summer ahead,and looks like the frontrunner to win the Tony.[Reviewed]

Aint Too Proud(13 nominations) Opened March 21st,2019.
Last week the Temptations musical was playing at 99.7% capacity with an average ticket price of $127.22 and grossed $1.4 million.After the nominations: No significant change in the numbers really though it was maxing out its potential gross the week before so there wasn't much way to grow except in advance ticket sales (and we don't have those numbers).The average ticket price was just $1.38 higher but there weren't quite as many seats sold.[Reviewed]

Tootsie(11 nominations) Opened April 23rd,2019
Prior to the nominations the adaptation of the Oscar winning 1982 comedy classic was playing at 91.42% capacity with an average ticket price of $93.54 and grossed $959k.The show is hot right now so the situation with the lower ticket price is clearly that they have so many (too many) seats to sell.Tootsieis playing at the Marquis which is the 7th largest theater in town.After the nominations: Schizophrenic results in that there was a big jump in gross to $1.2 million and ticket price up to $112.93 but the theater was actually less full at just 86.84% percent.It looks like the frontrunner to win Best Actor in a musical (for Santino Fontana) but with the Tonys the only prize that always makes a difference financially in long term gross is Best Musical.You can't get too much of a windfall with acting awards since the stars tend to leave the show after the first six months to a year depending on their contract and just about never tour with the show.

Oklahoma!(8 nominations) Opened April 7th,2019.
Last week the musical revival played to 101.58% capacity with an average ticket price of $123.76 and a gross of $651k.After the nominations: A tiny dip in capacity and ticket price,with a $625k gross,perhaps because it wasn't the top story withHadestownandAint Too Proudgetting all the headlines.Still,there isn't much to worry about in the immediate future.This production's not insignificant advantage for a healthy run is that with its stripped down approach it has lower operating costs than some shows and it's at the Circle in the Square theater,where it's hard to get a bad seat as there are only 648 of them (it's Broadway's third smallest theater).

Beetlejuice(8 nominations) Opened April 25th,2019.
Last week the musical adaptation of the Tim Burton movie played to 100.2% capacity but it did that with lots of discounted tickets or comped tickets (for opening night) since the average ticket price was just $69.67.The show grossed $834k.After the nominations: The average ticket price grew to $81.19 but they weren't able to sell out only filling 84.44% of the theater.So whether or not the Tony nods helped them is probably only seen in advance ticket sales to which we aren't partial.

The Prom(7 nominations).Opened November 15th,2018.
Last week the Best Musical nominee played to 88.7% capacity with an average ticket price of $82.93 and a $615k gross.After the nominations: playing to 78.88 % capacity with an average ticket price of $80.06.The show grossed $527k.The Prom's disadvantage,due to the realities of the current marketplace is that it is not based on a pre-existing brand so they had to sell it all by its lonesome and without any stunt casting.The producers have done a great job at keeping the show open for months now given that there were fears it might close early.We're hoping for a second wind from the Tonys and since it's awonderfulshow that would be a happy ending.But given weekly operating costs we're just hoping it can finish out the summer and maybe celebrate the hot months with a Tony win or two.[Reviewed]

Kiss Me Kate(4 nominations) Opened March 14th,2019.Ends June 30th
Last week the Cole Porter revival was playing at 99.6% capacity with an average ticket price of $100.06 and grossed $795k.After the nominations: playing to 96.57% capacity with an average ticket price of $99.46.The last Kiss Me Kate revival in 1999 won lots of Tonys and had a lucrative two year run neither of which will be true for this revival.

King Kong(3 nominations + a special Tony for the puppeteers).Opened November 8th,2018.
Last weekKing Kongplayed to 83.64% capacity with an average ticket price of $79.31.After the nominations: a quick drop to 65% capacity with an average ticket price of $68.62.The show received three below-the-line nominations but its been making its bank mostly on brand awareness.Still,it's at The Broadway Theatre which is Broadway's second largest theater (Wickedis the mainstay of the largest Broadway house,The Gershwin) so it hasa lotof seats to fill each night.It's initial advance sales were strong (brand awareness y'all) but who knows how it's doing now in that regard.Nevertheless the lack of above the line Tony nominations definitely hurt.It's obviously an expensive show so it seems unlikely that it will break even on Broadway before it closes.

The Cher Show(3 nominations) Opened December 3rd,2018.
Last week it played to 86% capacity with a $105.10 average ticket price and earned $997k.After the nominations: playing to 80.24% capacity with a $104.00 average ticket price earning $921k.Tony voters didn't respond much and that didn't help but the show probably has a healthy touring life ahead of it given the brand awareness.Plus,it's a lot of fun.A good comparison point might beSummer: The Donna Summer Musicalfrom last season which stayed open for just 8 months and begins a tour later this year.IfThe Cher Showfollows suit,and uses Broadway only as an expensive launching pad,it'll close in late summer.[Reviewed]

Be More Chill(1 nomination).Opened March 10th,2019
Last week the internet born musical,which is clearly pitched to theDear Evan Hansencrowd (one of Broadway's biggest always sold-out phenomenons),played to 89.67% capacity with an average ticket price of $98.69.The show grossed $875k.After the nominations: a painful drop to 67.96% capacity with an average ticket price of $84.87 for a gross of $411k.The show has devout fans (mostly among teenagers) but the Tonys didn't bite,offering up just 1 nomination for Score.

Pretty Woman(no nominations) Opened August 16th,2018
Last week the adaptation of the blockbuster romcom played to 95.25% capacity with an average ticket price of $106.92 and earned $951k.After the nominations: playing to 79.84% capacity with an average ticket price of $103.62 and earning $773k.The brand awareness has helped it a lot with tourists since people don't love it but it keeps selling tickets anyway.(see also Disney'sFrozenwhich earns between $1 and 2 million a week despite being terrible).If it can keep tourists interested it can stay open another year or so but if it gets shaky there perhaps it'll closer later this year.

Aside from the Tony nominations the next big potential windfall in terms of ticket sales are the Tony Awards themselves.A killer performance on the broadcast can make a big difference for advance sales which can keep a show open longer.Which shows do you hope to see perform at the Tony Awards?I'm definitely excited forHadestownsince tickets have been hard to come by and am hopingThe Promreally wins people over since it needs to.

Would you ever invest in a Broadway show?It's quite like gambling with little chance you'll become rich from it.Nevertheless those who do hit a once-in-a-lifetime jackpot,like aWickedor aHamilton,sure can make bank,though.

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Reader Comments (11)

My sister is a musician in Chicago,so I got to see both "The Cher Show"and "Tootsie"in their pre-Broadway runs.I loved Santino Fontana,and got to meet Mr.Bob Mackie!He was sitting about 8 seats away from me for the Cher show.I know I would absolutely pay for tickets if I was in NYC,but would need it to be an already well-recognized show.

May 6,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Would if the operation and production cost were low.

May 6,2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I suspect Be More Chill will close in the fall....there is no buzz anymore.

May 7,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Nathaniel,I'm curious,what is your favorite broadway theatre?On and Off.Your top 5,maybe?You can save the answer for an upcoming Ask Nathaniel.XXOOX

May 7,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue -- I couldn't do a top five i dont think but on broadway it's definitely Circle in the Square with maybe the Belasco as runner up.Off Broadway there are so many and I hit them so infrequently given the sheer number that I couldn't say though I do love the theaters at Pershing Square Signature Center

May 7,2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The only one I have seen is "Ain't Too Proud"which played here in LA before going to Broadway.It's energetic and a crowd pleaser,but boy did it exhaust me.I also don't like that it tells more than it shows,relying too heavily on narration.I also wish that the numbers didn't get so truncated most of the time.With that said,the performers are terrific and the show is pure entertainment even if it's not great theater.

May 7,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Beetlejuice is pretty polarizing as a show.The reviews were all over the place and word of mouth is pure "love it/hate it"without much nuance in between.Their Tony performance will probably help them more as the show looks great and does have a few catchy songs.It's unlikely to win the bigger categories though lights and sets could very well happen.

May 7,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Nathaniel,thank you for this fascinating article.I am a huge Broadway fan,but never have visited NYC or the theaters.I hate that yet again,I will miss one of my favorite actresses in a show.This time it's Annette in All My Sons.Life is so unfair.

May 8,2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

"Would you ever invest in a Broadway show?"

"Invest"- probably not.Magically gift?I wish!!

May 8,2019 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

I'll be in New York next week - I'm free Thursday night.I have access to a free ticket.I decided on "Oklahoma."I had considered "all my sons"with Annette Bening.I've seen "beetle juice"(awful) and "ain't too proud"/ saw it twice - fabulous / feel good.

May 8,2019 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy

Thanks for this wonderful article and continue sharing more topics like this.

May 10,2019 | Unregistered Commentergmail login

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