Can ‘Mormon’ Shake Broadway’s ‘Spider’ blues?

Legged Productions

Every season needs a powerhouse hit to galvanize theatergoers, draw media attention and spill its glow on other productions.

These are tough times for bona fide original musicals, but if one new show not based on an existing brand stands to break through this season — which runs June-May — it’s The Book of Mormon. With the future of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark uncertain, Mormon just might have the edge among newcomers. The show’s robust sales during previews have been a strong indicator.

According to figures compiled by the Broadway League, overall grosses this season through March 20 stand at $843 million, compared with $821 million for the same period last year. If Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s scrappy newcomer becomes a breakout hit, it will help push season totals well above the $1 billion mark, a threshold officially crossed last season for the first time in history.

“Season to date, we’re up in grosses by 2.7 percent and up in attendances by 1.6 percent, so we’re on track for a terrific year,” says Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League. “At this point it will probably be the second-biggest year in the history of Broadway.” This comes after a couple of years when Broadway defied industry expectations and dire economic forecasts to post stellar numbers.

Provided Tony voters are not clutching their pearls in shock over the show’s torrent of profanities, Parker, Lopez and Stone seem likely to find themselves in the nominees circle when nominations are announced May 3. Tony telecast exposure can be instrumental in securing a boost for musicals as they head into the summer.

Mormon seems poised to win fresh Broadway converts as teen and college-age audiences have turned out in hefty numbers through previews. It also has more Facebook followers than almost any other show on Broadway.

The producers have not disclosed the capitalization for Mormon, but with a trim orchestra of nine musicians, no star salaries and a set without major mechanics, it is believed to be less than $10 million, with a weekly running cost estimated at around $600,000.

Grosses are expected to hit $1 million a week once the show switches post-opening to a full performance schedule, which means recoupment could be not too far down the line.     

BROADWAY SEASON STATISTICS: Gross revenues and attendance

  • 2009-10: $1,020 | 11.89
  • 2008-09: $943 | 12.15
  • 2007-08: $938 | 12.27
  • 2006-07: $939 | 12.31
  • 2005-06: $862 | 12

Gross and attendance figures in millions