Broadway Hits New High in Record Holiday Week

Hamilton Production Still New York - Publicity - H 2018
Joan Marcus

Several shows topped previous highs, led by 'Hamilton' with a historic weekly haul north of $4 million, helping to push annual box office to a dizzying $1.8 billion.

Broadway ushered in 2019 with a record week that saw show after show topple its own previous high, many of them setting new box office benchmarks in a year that amassed an unprecedented annual total of $1.825 billion.

While the New York theater sector calculates sales according to the season, running midyear through midyear and pegged to the Tony Awards, the calendar tally for 2018 remains significant, up from $1.637 billion in 2017. Attendance also jumped to a record 14.37 million, up from 13.74 million the previous year.

The Christmas-New Year corridor traditionally is the most lucrative frame of the Broadway year, and this one was no exception. Across the board, records tumbled, led by Hamilton, which became the first show to crash through the $4 million barrier in a single week, grossing $4,041,493 for eight performances, with an average ticket price of $375. Now in its fourth year on Broadway with no sign of business slowing, Lin-Manuel Miranda's legitimate cultural phenomenon has earned a stunning $463.3 million to date.

The two-part Harry Potter and the Cursed Child broke its own previous record with the best week for a play in Broadway history, grossing $2,525,850 for eight performances, while Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird becomes the highest-grossing American play in Broadway history, with $1,701,683, also for eight performances. That drama based on the classic Harper Lee novel was the final production to open in 2018 and is off to a dazzling start, raking in $11.3 million over its first nine sold-out weeks, with advance sales reportedly at $22 million.

A number of productions played nine performances to take advantage of the holiday crowds, including Disney's long-running hits The Lion King and Aladdin. Both those shows, along with the company's 2018 addition, Frozen, set new house records during the year's final week. The Lion King grossed $3,696,974, marking its 30th new house record; Aladdin topped its previous high for the 14th time with $2,584,549; and Frozen, which opened this past spring, beat its previous record with $2,624,495 for eight performances.

Perennial favorite Wicked broke its house record at the Gershwin Theatre with $3,411,819 for nine performances. Likewise Tina Fey's hit Mean Girls musical at the August Wilson Theatre with $1,994,386 for eight shows. King Kong had its best-ever week with $1,847,782, including a Sunday matinee gross of $243,090, which is the best-selling single performance in the history of the Broadway Theatre, where it opened Nov. 8. 

The Illusionists — Magic of the Holidays closed out its limited seasonal engagement, registering the highest week in the Marquis Theatre's history with $2,978,348 for 16 performances and besting its previous high set in January 2015. The show this time around totaled $8,407,239 over six weeks.

Buoyed by its appearance on more than 20 best-of-2018 lists, Jez Butterworth's play The Ferryman had its strongest week to date, with $1,037,447, while Network, starring Bryan Cranston, demolished its own previous record with $1,367,013. Even the epic run of Chicago had a strong week with $1,247,572, capping off the top-grossing year in the revival's 22-year history.

Overall, a staggering 28 of the 39 productions currently playing on Broadway topped the $1 million mark last week. Those included The Phantom of the Opera ($2,091,530), Dear Evan Hansen ($1,932,472), The Book of Mormon ($1,926,329), School of Rock ($1,757,096), Come From Away ($1,675,277), My Fair Lady ($1,549,407), The Cher Show ($1,373,614), Anastasia ($1,339,777), Kinky Boots ($1,332,385), Pretty Woman ($1,266,709), Summer: The Donna Summer Musical ($1,094,723), The Lifespan of a Fact ($1,062,803), The Band's Visit ($1,045,860), Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ($1,018,891) and Waitress ($1,000,718).

The total to date for the 2018-19 season stands at $1.132 billion with 8.75 million admissions, up from $954.3 million and 7.87 million admissions for the same period last season. The Christmas-New Year holiday week alone contributed a hefty $57.8 million.

In addition to blockbuster sellers like Hamilton, The Lion King, Wicked and Dear Evan Hansen, and robust newcomers like To Kill a Mockingbird and Network, both of which are selling out every performance, the Broadway coffers were filled last year by the singular success of Springsteen on Broadway. That history-making production closed Dec. 15, with a final tally of $113 million for its 52-week run.