Broadway's Box Office Up Slightly in 2004

Broadway's box office inched upward in 2004 and attendance also increased slightly, according to figures released by the League of American Theatres and Producers (search).

In 2004, Broadway (search) productions grossed $748.9 million, up from $725.4 million the previous calendar year, the League said Tuesday. The number of theatergoers attending plays and musicals also rose, from 11.09 million in 2003 to 11.3 million this year.

"From a business point of view, it was a very solid year," Jed Bernstein, League president, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"Last winter was a hard time, but things were very strong in the spring and summer. Then it (business) tailed off again in the first half of the fall, although the last month or so has been much stronger."

Much of that late-fall boost can be attributed to "700 Sundays," (search) Billy Crystal's stage memoir, which has proved to be the most potent performer among the five one-person shows that arrived since October. The others, featuring such disparate artists as Mario Cantone, Eve Ensler, Whoopi Goldberg and Dame Edna, have met with varying degrees of success.

Crystal's show, with a hefty top ticket price of $101.25, reported more than $600,000 in single-ticket sales the day after its Dec. 5 opening.

Other shows demonstrating box-office muscle in 2004 were the musicals "Wicked" and "Avenue Q" and the revival of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun," which brought Sean Combs — as well as a new, younger audience — to Broadway.

On a season-to-season comparison, things were a little different. Comparing the first six months of the 2004-2005 season to the same period last year, grosses are down slightly, from $422 million to $419 million. And attendance was basically flat, with 6.34 million tickets sold during the first six months of the 2003-2004 season, compared to 6.32 million for the first six months of this season.

Bernstein said he was surprised at the speed with which overseas tourists have come back to Broadway. In the 2002-2003 season, they accounted for about 6 percent of ticket sales. The following season that figure climbed to about 11 or 12 percent of the ticket sales.

"Certainly tourists were very important to Broadway and particularly overseas tourists, who are now back at the same numbers as they were prior to Sept. 11," Bernstein said.

"We're almost cooking along now the way we were in the 2000-2001 season, which was a record setter. So if we get a good spring, we will be able to match that."

And spring sounds promising. There are a half-dozen musicals planned, including "Little Women," "Monty Python's Spamalot" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." And such big names as Natasha Richardson in "A Streetcar Named Desire," Kathleen Turner in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and Denzel Washington in "Julius Caesar," are also scheduled to make appearances.