Broadway's revenue and attendance figures were both up this season, largely fueled by classics from Harold Pinter and William Shakespeare rather than brash, new musicals.
The Broadway League said Tuesday that box offices reported a record total gross of $1.27 billion — up from $1.13 billion from the previous season. The trade association for theatre owners, operators and producers said attendance was up 5.6 per cent to 12.2 million.
New musicals — "After Midnight," ''Rocky," ''If/Then," ''A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," ''Bullets Over Broadway" and "Violet" — mostly recorded fine but not spectacular business.
A few flopped — "Big Fish" and "The Bridges of Madison County" — and a few have soared, like Neil Patrick Harris in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Pushing the overall numbers higher were first-rate play revivals, including a double bill of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and "Richard III." They recouped their $3.1 million capitalization costs, despite putting aside 250 seats at every performance for just $25.
A revival of Harold Pinter's "Betrayal," starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall, wrapped up its 14-week engagement with a stunning cumulative gross of just over $17.5 million. It set a record for best single week for a play ever on Broadway.
Another revival — Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie," starring Zachary Quinto and Cherry Jones — recouped its $2.6 million investment, while a double bill of Pinter's "No Man's Land" and Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, left after 23 weeks with a $14.3 million haul. A revival of "A Raisin in the Sun" with Denzel Washington has been a sure thing, with the Ethel Barrymore Theatre packed each time and making over $1 million a week.
The two-time Tony Award winner Mark Rylance, nominated twice this year, said he is heartened by the draw for his Shakespeare plays. They were performed by an all-male cast and sought to replicate how the plays were produced in Shakespeare's day, including with live musicians and low-tech candlelight.
"My view is that people are increasingly enabled by technology but also rather isolated by it — isolated from visceral experiences," he said. "Being in a room with Viola or with Richard III or with any of those characters as they go through real experiences and real emotions — that beats watching it on the screen every time."
The numbers were boosted by steadily increasing ticket prices, high demand from tourists swelling Times Square, reconfigured seating in some theatres and the use of premium-priced seating, in which some tickets are snapped up for very high amounts.
The numbers are an improvement on last season's decline in box office take and a 6 per cent dip on the number of ticket buyers, both blamed on Hurricane Sandy. The storm darkened Broadway for four days and cost more than $8.5 million in lost revenue.
This year, producers had to contend with a savage winter and the promise of Super Bowl crowds that never materialized.