Hurricane Sandy Takes Bite Out of Broadway

Bette Midler I'll Eat You Last - H 2013
Richard Termine

Bette Midler I'll Eat You Last - H 2013

Despite higher ticket prices and increased sales of premium seats, grosses for the 2012-13 season remained flat, with admissions registering a 6.2 percent dip.

NEW YORK -- In a sign that the steady climb of Broadway grosses has hit a speed bump, figures for the 2012-13 theater season remained static with last year's results.

Despite the inexorable inflation of ticket prices and the boom in sales of premium seats for in-demand shows like The Book of Mormon and Lucky Guy, figures released on Tuesday by theatrical trade group The Broadway League showed a season tally of $1.14 billion, mirroring total box office for the 2011-12 season.

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The more worrying news, however, is a seasonal admissions total of 11.6 million, compared with 12 million the previous season.

Exact results for the just-concluded season showed grosses down by 0.1 percent, and admissions falling by 6.2 percent. Those figures represent a break in four years of revenue growth, and the lowest attendance since the 2004-05 season

"Each season has unique factors that contribute to the overall story," said Broadway League executive director Charlotte St. Martin. "In the fall, our grosses and attendance numbers were above last fall's numbers until Hurricane Sandy devastated our region. The lost performances and the understandable slower return to Broadway by our Tri-State Area theatergoers contributed to the decline in both grosses and attendance."

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No less than the Sandy factor, the quick flop or premature closing of a number of productions from both the fall and spring lineups also eroded business. That string of commercial misfires cut the total number of playing weeks by 6 percent to 1430, leaving several prime theaters empty for part of the season.

Despite the declines, St. Martin points to the high number of hit shows that opened in the late-spring period, just prior to Tony Awards eligibility cutoff, as cause for an optimistic outlook on the 2013-14 season.

In addition to Lucky Guy with Tom Hanks, other shows playing to capacity audiences include the musicals Kinky Boots, Matilda, Motown and Pippin, and Bette Midler in the single-character play I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers

With those shows driving Broadway traffic through the early summer, along with perennial top sellers such as Mormon, Wicked and The Lion King, next season is off to a more robust start.

A total of 46 new productions opened during the 2012-13 Broadway season, including a record high of 26 plays.