Bruce Springsteen’s summer engagement at the St. James Theatre will likely break Broadway records — but we may never know for sure.
The Broadway League won’t report grosses for the return of Springsteen on Broadway, which opened Saturday night, said Martine Sainvil, a spokeswoman for the trade association. That may be a harbinger of things to come. Although Sainvil said in an email last week that the organization hasn’t decided whether to disclose sales for other shows, League President Charlotte St. Martin previously said that it won’t report grosses if Broadway resumes during a partial season, which appears to be the case this year. (Just one other production is scheduled for the summer, Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s play Pass Over, which begins previews on Aug. 4 at the August Wilson Theatre.)
At its 236 performances at the Walter Kerr Theatre in 2017 and 2018, Springsteen on Broadway grossed an average of $479,000 per performance, based on data from the League. With the exception of Christmas week at Hamilton, that’s likely the highest per-performance gross in Broadway history. The St. James has an additional 781 seats, or 80 percent more capacity, than the Walter Kerr.
Reporting Broadway sales is a time-honored tradition that expanded beyond trade publications, notably Variety, in the 1990s, as general-interest publications increasingly delved into film grosses, book sales and other business arcana. Stories about the business of theater generate free media coverage and reinforce the notion that Broadway is global.
“Big industries report their numbers,” Bill Haber, a Broadway producer and co-founder of Creative Artists Agency, said at a League meeting a few years ago, according to a person who was there. “If you want people to consider Broadway like movies or other big industries, then we have to report.”
But there’ve always been producers and theater owners who dislike the policy – especially when their ticket sales are slumping. The pandemic provided ammunition to those wary of transparency. They argue that reporting soft sales could hurt the industry’s image just as it reintroduces theatergoing to locals and tourists who’ve spent the past year streaming much of their entertainment.
“I was a fan of reporting,” said one producer who emailed Broadway Journal on condition of anonymity. “But even I think this is a time where we don’t need people pointing at numbers and screaming the sky is falling.”
Alternatively, reporting buoyant sales could be awkward for theater chains and productions that receive sizable Shuttered Venue Operators Grants from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns the St. James, and the Nederlander Organization, which owns the home of Hamilton, the Richard Rodgers, each received $10 million from the SBA, the maximum award under the program.
Likewise, reporting average ticket prices, which are normally disclosed alongside grosses, could reignite debate about whether the industry has priced itself beyond the reach of most people.
Springsteen is sticking closely to his original set list, according to enthusiastic press accounts of opening night, including “Thunder Road,” “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Dancing in the Dark,” while adding “Fire,” which he sang with his wife, Patti Scialfa, and “American Skin (41 Shots),” about Amadou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant from Guinea who was killed by New York City police in 1999. In Springsteen’s comments onstage, he referred to threats to American democracy and the catharsis of finally performing live.
The show has a top ticket of $850 (or $878 with fees) as it did in 2017-18. As of Sunday afternoon, out of some 51,000 tickets being sold for this run, just a few hundred tickets were available from the “official online box office” at SeatGeek, starting at $528, including fees. (On Friday, the production announced a digital lottery for $75 tickets, to buy seats that may have an obstructed view of the stage. Many more tickets, ranging from $350 to several thousand dollars, are available from resellers. SeatGeek is the primary ticket outlet for Jujamcyn venues.)
The producers of Springsteen on Broadway didn’t issue press releases hyping its sales in 2017-18, and they have no plans to do so this summer, a production spokesman said.
Note: This story was updated to include details from opening night.