Broadway Pulverizes Annual Box-Office Record, Hurdling $1.6 Billion

Hamilton Broadway Production Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Joan Marcus

Lin-Manuel Miranda's unstoppable smash led the charge, with newer hits like 'Hello, Dolly!,' 'Dear Evan Hansen,' 'Come From Away' and 'Springsteen on Broadway' joining perennials to pump grosses for the year.

Broadway grosses hit another record high in 2017, with overall box office surpassing $1.5 billion for the first time, driven by premium pricing for such in-demand shows as Hamilton, Hello, Dolly! and Springsteen on Broadway.

Box office through Dec. 31 — a 53-week cycle in 2017, due to a variance in the calendar — soared to a massive $1.637 billion, according to figures released Tuesday by trade organization The Broadway League. That represents a substantial hike of $270 million from last year's already unprecedented high of $1.367 billion, which toppled the previous record of $1.362 billion in 2014.

Attendance for the calendar year also rose to a record total of 13.74 million, besting the previous high of 13.25 million in 2016. And the average ticket price climbed by $15 to $118, pushed by high-volume premium sales for a number of SRO productions. The final week of the year, ending Dec. 31, also hit a historic high for a seven-day frame of $50.4 million.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop historical juggernaut Hamilton led the field, raking in another $157.8 million for the year with 569,726 admissions and nudging the production's overall total just above the $300 million mark. That figure includes Broadway only, not the hefty additional revenues from the Chicago production, first U.S. tour and recently opened London run.

In a bid to outprice scalpers on the frenzied secondary market, producers of Hamilton jacked up premium tickets for the lucrative holiday week between Christmas and New Year to a record high of $1,150, which is up 15 percent from the show's unprecedented $998 top ticket for the same week in 2016. This marks the first time that premium seats sold directly by a production have hit four figures, bringing the show's box-office take for the final week of the year to a staggering $3.85 million.

Hamilton's annual total was up from $105.5 million in 2016, when it registered 558,977 admissions. With all the celebrated original principals now having moved on to other projects, the production's continuing box-office strength and ability to shift premium tickets at exorbitant prices offer definitive proof, if anyone still required it, that the show itself is the star.

Coming in at second place for 2017 was Disney's perennial strong seller The Lion King, which added $110.3 million to the Broadway coffers in its 20th-anniversary year. In third place was another reliable earner that has become a worldwide brand, Wicked, with $97.1 million.

Demonstrating the marquee draw of Bette Midler, the Tony-winning Hello, Dolly! revival nudged into fourth position despite not playing a full year (the show began previews March 15 at the Shubert Theatre, officially opening on April 20), racking up an impressive $85.7 million.

Not far behind with $82 million was another popular Disney show, Aladdin, now in its fourth year and still playing to sellout houses. The 2017 Tony Award winner for best musical, Dear Evan Hansen, followed with $77.1 million. Next came two long-running successes: The Book of Mormon, in its eighth year, added $68.4 million to its tally; while Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, now entering its 30th year, brought in an additional $55.5 million.

Following close behind was the sleeper hit of the 2016-17 season, Come From Away, about the warm welcome extended by the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland, to passengers from flights diverted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. That crowdpleaser, which opened March 12, earned a robust $54.4 million.

Rounding out the top 10 shows for the year was another Lloyd Webber musical, School of Rock with $52.6 million, followed by Kinky Boots, with $49.6 million.

Musicals invariably outpace plays at the box office by a wide margin, and that was again the case this year.

The strongest-selling nonmusicals were the British knockabout farce The Play That Goes Wrong, which earned $16.3 million and counting; the Noel Coward revival Present Laughter, which won a Tony for lead actor Kevin Kline and took in $12.4 million during its limited engagement; and J.T. Rogers' political thriller Oslo, the Tony winner for best play, which earned $10.9 million during its limited run.

While it didn't crack the top 10, perhaps this year's most remarkable box-office achievement was that of Springsteen on Broadway, which racked up $28.2 million in just 12 weeks in the relatively cozy Walter Kerr Theatre, which seats just 948 per performance. The intimate concert production, which is playing only five shows a week, has been easily clearing $2 million a week at an average ticket price of $500 since it opened Oct. 12; a four-month extension was recently announced to follow a brief hiatus in February, which is sure to add fuel to the 2018 grosses.

Another fall opener heading into the new year with plenty of steam at the box office is the new musical The Band's Visit, which has capitalized on superlative reviews to gross north of $1 million a week, also in a relatively small house of just 936 seats. Considered one of the frontrunners for Tony Awards glory next June, the show about an Egyptian police band stranded overnight in a middle-of-nowhere town in the Israeli desert has grossed close to $12.6 million since beginning performances at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in October.

Other potential strong sellers that appear likely to keep Broadway's sales momentum going in 2018 include the London smash Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part play that picks up on the beloved central characters of J.K. Rowling's wizardry saga as adults, beginning performances at the Lyric Theatre on March 16.

Frozen looks to become a third Broadway powerhouse in the Disney Theatrical stable (alongside The Lion King and Aladdin); the stage version of the wildly popular animated blockbuster is set to bow March 22 at the St. James Theatre. And lavish revivals of classic musicals My Fair Lady and Carousel also seem poised to be strong sellers.

On the nonmusical front, starry revivals coming in for limited engagements promise to stoke box-office demand, including Tony Kushner's Angels in America with Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane (opening March 25); Edward Albee's Three Tall Women with Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill (opening March 29); and Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh with Denzel Washington (opening April 26).