EXCLUSIVE: The year isn’t over, but it’s already demolishing records.
As of Dec. 24, Broadway grosses for 2017 totaled $1.59 billion, vs. $1.37 billion for all of 2016, which had been the bestselling calendar year. With a holiday bonanza likely this week, 2017 sales are on track to be up about 20 percent, according to data from the Broadway League, which represents producers and theater owners.
Broadway is hitting new heights as it weathers a 4 percent drop in international tourism in the U.S. in the first half of the year. (Numbers for 2017’s second half aren’t available.) Some say President Trump’s anti-immigration, “America First” rhetoric and agenda is a factor in the decline of international travelers. Yet thanks to a continued influx of Americans, overall tourism is up in New York City. “The domestic audience may be more attuned to Broadway than international visitors,” said George Wachtel, president of Audience Research & Analysis, which conducts market research about cultural tourism.
Attendance is on track to be up about 4 percent this year. The average ticket increased $15 to a record $118, according to the data. Audiences are paying up for shows that are in demand, which now consist mostly of musicals.
Hamilton 2017 sales jumped by nearly half, to $154 million. It accounted for nearly 10 percent of Broadway box office. In the seven days ending on Christmas eve, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s juggernaut grossed $3.8 million, smashing the record it set a month earlier for the most lucrative eight-performance week. (As we reported first, Hamilton has raised its prime holiday ticket price to a record $1,150.)
The Lion King’s 2017 sales are $107 million, with Simba’s tenth consecutive annual increase. Dear Evan Hansen, which opened just over a year ago, is at $75 million this year. Hello, Dolly!, which whirled into the Shubert Theatre in March, has sold $83 million, largely due to Bette Midler. Bruce Springsteen has grossed $26 million.
And don’t count out Wicked, at $94 million. It’s on track for a 9 percent increase, snapping a four-year sales decline. Higher attendance was the cause, as its average ticket was little changed. A spokesman for the show, which opened back in 2003, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Calendar-year comparisons aren’t perfect: based on the League’s definitions, 2016 had 52 weeks and 2017 has 53. Another complicating factor: Broadway’s 41st house, the Hudson Theatre, reopened in 2017 after 49 years. (It was home to Sunday in the Park with George, 1984 and now The Parisian Woman.) Meanwhile, the Helen Hayes has been closed for renovations since July 2016. Taken together, Broadway has roughly 370 additional available seats per performance, increasing capacity by about 1 percent.
The top-selling play that had any performances during the year was Stephen Karam’s The Humans, which grossed $24 million before it shuttered on Jan. 15. The British farce The Play That Goes Wrong is the bestselling drama still running, at $16 million. (Sales data in this story is available at BroadwayWorld.com and the site of the League.)
Wachtel notes that musicals have become more visible in movies and on television in recent years (e.g. 20th Century Fox’s The Greatest Showman and Fox’s live A Christmas Story) and garner more attention and respect in the media. “We don’t get the bad jokes we used to get,” he said, as the art form has gone mainstream. Still, he questions the industry’s ability to sustain the highest prices. “It’s very dependent on business cycles.”
For now, the business of musicals is robust. Plays, not so much. For the season that ends in May 2018, grosses to-date are up 17 percent. Scheduled for early next year are eagerly awaited stage adaptations of Frozen, Harry Potter and promising star-driven revivals. That suggests a potential play rebound, continued good fortune for musicals and no imminent plunge in ticket prices.
Editor: Alice Scovell. This story was updated to include background about the Hudson and Helen Hayes.