Oscar and Grammy winner David Byrne performs his Broadway show American Utopia
Winter is coming to Broadway.
At the start of every new year, the industry experiences plummeting sales as holiday tourists and spenders evaporate, and the Rialto hunkers down until awards season rouses it again in the spring. Grosses sink, shows close, and buyers hibernate (chill?) with Netflix instead.
This year was no exception: after a huge holiday haul, sales this week dropped 23%, down to $43 million, and seven shows closed. Sound rough? Well, it is…and it isn’t. What the raw numbers don’t provide is context.
While substantially lower than the prior frame, $43 million is still a record for the first week of a new year, eclipsing the high water mark set in 2018 by almost $6 million. That’s massive, and it’s a testament to the strength of the current roster of shows.
Predictably, the biggest losses went to the biggest tourist-friendly musicals, like Wicked and The Lion King, each of which dropped about $1 million. But these are long-running behemoths, about as evergreen as Broadway gets, and can weather such vagaries. Despite the drop, Wicked still grossed over 123% of its listed potential.
More impressive are the shows that don’t have the long tail to balance upon. David Byrne’s terrific, uncategorizable American Utopia added an extra performance to its schedule and broke the house record at the Hudson for a 7-show week, grossing $1.23 million. Ditto Beetlejuice, which broke the 7-show record at the Winter Garden ($1.43m) – another inconvenient truth for the theater owners to weigh as they move toward a long-planned eviction.
Plenty of other shows showed great retention. Including the aforementioned ones, fourteen grossed over 100% of their listed potential, in spite of dropping sales. They were a mix of revivals, new material, and long-running hits: Book of Mormon, Hadestown, Tina, Phantom of the Opera, Harry Potter, and Hamilton. West Side Story also stayed functionally flat, grossing over $1.7 million even as others around it tumbled.
As for the closing shows, five of them were limited-run affairs geared specifically to milk the holiday crowds, and another was a long-running hit that had reached a natural, and profitable, end. Only Tootsie, which had struggled for months, closed ahead of its time.
Waitress especially timed its closure well, balancing the New Year losses with a massive bump from fans who flooded in to catch it one last time. It closed with the best week in over a year, $1.3 million.
All this points to a robust, varied cocktail of content on the Great White Way. While overall growth has been steady since 2015, 2019 saw depressed numbers across the board. If this first week is any indication, 2020 could be a return to form.
We need to get through the winter first, though, and next week will be rough. Though most were planned, the seven newly-closed shows will still siphon a big chunk of cash from the industry. Together, they accounted for $5.8m in sales, or 14% of the total New Year haul.
Bundle up, mavens.