Is the Broadway season over? If so, statistically, 2019-20 was both disastrous and illustrative of the industry’s resilience.
The season that was to end in late May is effectively kaput, thanks to the Broadway League’s acknowledgement that performances are suspended through at least June 7 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The League could officially extend the season and add to the number of shows eligible for a future Tony Awards, but that’s less practical the longer the shutdown continues.
As of March 8, Broadway grossed $1.359 billion in 2019-20, according to League data. That excludes three weekdays before Broadway called it a day on March 12, so I’m rounding up the total to $1.37 billion. Grosses were on track to decline by 5 percent from 2018-19.
With the shutdown, 2019-20 grosses plunged 25 percent from a year earlier, about what you’d expect for a season missing its fourth quarter.
But by the standards of recent history, the abbreviated figure is quite respectable. Grosses were about the same as in 2015-16 — just four years earlier — when Hamilton opened on Broadway and swept the Tony Awards.
Attendance is a different story. One must go back almost two decades, when terrorism traumatized the city and nation, for comparable numbers. Attendance this season was about 11.2 million, the lowest since 2001-2, when the number of tickets sold was 10.95 million.
(The comparison isn’t apples-to-apples. Beginning in 2009, the League added comps to official attendance figures. The tally previously referred to paid attendance.)
Top-selling shows this season include Hamilton ($121 million, as of March 8), The Lion King ($85 million), To Kill a Mockingbird ($75 million), Moulin Rouge! ($72 million), Wicked ($69 million), Ain’t Too Proud ($60 million), Hadestown ($54 million) and Harry Potter ($51 million).
The overall League data offers no insight into return on investment, which is presumably horrible and worsening by the day, as productions opt to cut their losses rather than wait out a shutdown with no known end. Nor do grosses speak to the record unemployment among actors and others in the industry.
Yet for what it’s worth: thanks to rising attendance and ticket prices in recent years, the industry’s overall numbers, even in this tragic and abbreviated season, could be a lot worse.