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Broadway reckons with dismal box office returns

Broadway show "For Colored Girls"
The cast of “For Colored Girls”
Photo by Marc J. Franklin/Provided

During the week ending May 8, 2022, the Broadway revival of “The Music Man” filled the Winter Garden Theatre to 99.60% capacity and grossed $3.4 million over eight performances, at an average ticket price of $282.42. (Sure, the production earned middling reviews, but who cares when you have Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, Americana, and lavish production values?)

And while some other new shows (“Funny Girl,” “Macbeth,” “MJ,” “Six,” “Plaza Suite”) and older shows (“Moulin Rouge!,” “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Wicked,” “Hadestown”) also did very well at the box office, an unusually large number of shows are posting gross and attendance numbers so poor that they would have been all but unthinkable before the pandemic.

Consider “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Come From Away,” which both came to Broadway during the 2016-17 season and managed to remain sold-out hits up until March 2020. They last reported attendance numbers of 68.53% (“Dear Evan Hansen”) and 58.87% (“Come From Away”). 

But far more disconcerting is the number of recently opened shows (many of which earned great reviews) with box office numbers that are not just disappointing but dismal, including “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf” (39.15% capacity), “The Skin of Our Teeth” (39.04% capacity), “Hangmen” (40.54% capacity), “POTUS” (49.18% capacity), and “Girl from the North Country” (52.33% capacity).

Broadway Mrs. Doubtfire
The cast of Mrs. DoubtfirePhoto by Joan Marcus/provided

Also struggling are the new musicals “A Strange Loop” (67.31% capacity), “Mr. Saturday Night” (68.14% capacity), and Paradise Square (61.15% capacity), which also reported a weekly gross of only $193,669 (approximately 5.6% of the gross of “The Music Man”). 

“Mrs. Doubtfire,” which recently returned from a three-month hiatus that was intended to give it wait out the Omicron variant and survive financially, will now close for good on May 29. In a statement, producer Kevin McCollum said that “ even though New York City is getting stronger every day and ticket sales are slowly improving, theatre-going tourists and, especially for our show, family audiences have not returned as soon as we anticipated.”

As McCollum suggests, the current situation on Broadway goes back to the fundamentals of supply and demand. There are 41 Broadway theaters, most of which are currently filled, but audiences have not returned in sufficient numbers to support all of the shows, resulting in box office returns that are insufficient to meet weekly operating costs. Also, too many shows opened all at once in April, which prevented most of them from earning adequate attention. 

However, some shows are still fighting to survive. “for colored girls…,” which was set to close three months early on May 22, has extended its run by two weeks to June 5 and is waging a social media campaign to support the production, including encouraging people to purchase tickets on behalf of female-identifying people of color. (The production has also benefited from receiving seven Tony Award nominations, the most of any play.)

Likewise, “Girl from the North Country,” which just returned to Broadway for a limited encore run, has extended to June 19, which means it will still be running at the time of the Tony Awards. One should not discount the possibility of “Girl from the North Country” regaining its financial footing and perhaps even winning the Tony for Best Musical over “A Strange Loop.”

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