UPDATE WITH DRAMA SALES DECLINE: The Broadway season ended on Sunday with record attendance and sales, thanks to Hamilton. But grosses for plays in 2015-16 retreated 27 percent as star vehicles fell short.
Overall, Broadway sales rose a record 0.6 percent from a year earlier to $1.37 billion, according to the Broadway League. Attendance was up 1.6 percent, another record. Musicals carried the day, led by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wildly popular cultural phenomenon that’s on track to run for years.
Plays without music were another story. Sales for dramas this past season declined by $66 million to $182 million, according to League statistics. It was the lowest play tally since 2010-11. As in 2014-15, 20 new plays and revivals opened in 2015-16 but they didn’t run as long or command as much. Play attendance fell 14 percent as average admission dropped from $104.46 to $89.59.
Prices for musicals increased slightly, but not enough to compensate for dramas. Broadway’s overall average ticket price fell by $1.07, or 1 percent, to $103.11. It was Broadway’s first price drop since the League introduced its grosses database in 1984-85. The decline doesn’t take into account the four-figure sums Hamilton commands in the secondary market.
“There are no million-dollar plus plays,” said Merritt Baer, chief executive of the mobile ticket-buying application, TodayTix, referring to weekly sales this past season.
Just four shows from 2015-16 announced that they’ve repaid investors. (Hamilton also recouped, but hasn’t officially announced it.) A year ago at this time, at least seven had made investors whole, including star vehicles for Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, Larry David and Helen Mirren. Backers of this past season’s plays, with Bruce Willis, Forest Whitaker and others, have generally been less fortunate.
Baer pointed out that that several new musicals are selling well, despite the media focus on Hamilton. (Slightly accentuating the play sales drop: the League accounted for the $11 million of grosses for An Act of God with Jim Parsons in 2014-15 because that’s when it began previews. It officially opened in 2015-16.)
The season finished strong, with sales overall up 10 percent from the previous week. Aided by Tony Award-related advertising and promotion,the new musicals Waitress and Bright Star had their best weeks to-date, as did the new play The Humans (with no stars) and the Roundabout revivals of She Loves Me with Laura Bennati and Jane Krakowski and Long Day’s Journey Into Night with Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne.
Hamilton grossed $74 million this past season. Its weekly sales will likely escalate as producers release new blocks with heftier ticket prices. The mega-hit should also give Broadway outside of 46th street a lift on June 12, when casts of Hamilton and others perform at the Tonys at the Beacon Theatre. “Ratings should go through the roof,” said Scott Mallalieu of group sales broker Greatwhiteway.com, referring to the CBS telecast. “It helps Broadway because we’re advertising to a different population.”