Broadway Enjoys Record Season

After failing to set records last season, Broadway rebounded this year with new highs for total attendance and total gross, according to figures released Wednesday by the League of American Theatres and Producers.

Paid attendance was up 4.1% from last season and crossed the 12 million mark for the first time. Grosses increased 12%, from $768.5 million for the 2004-05 season to $861.6 million this season, a new record.

The percentage of seats filled was also at an all-time high: 81.6%. And the number of playing weeks -- the total of all productions multiplied by the number of weeks each show played (if 10 ten shows play ten weeks, that 100 weeks) -- also set a record with 1,501, up from 1,494 last season.

"This season was marked by tremendous new musicals and plays, offering audiences a diversity of shows from which to choose," Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers, said in a statement. "Although the strong business results continue to underline Broadway's revenue stakes in New York, increasing cost pressures have resulted in no increase in the number of shows making a profit. Broadway is still a high-risk investment."

Indeed, several of the season's productions -- some with huge names attached -- failed miserably. Lestat, based on the books of best-selling author Anne Rice and featuring the music of pop legends Elton John and Bernie Taupin, ran for only 39 performances (and 33 previews) and cost about $10 million to produce. Lennon and Ring of Fire, jukebox musicals about John Lennon and Johnny Cash, also bombed. Lennon ran 49 performances; Ring of Fire ran for 57.

Hot Feet, featuring the music of Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Tarzan have also received negative reviews, though it remains to be seen what their staying power will be. Chances are that Tarzan, backed by the deep pockets of Disney, has a better shot of staying around, at least through the summer tourist season.

Not that bombing with critics always means bombing at the box-office. Two plays that received tepid-at-best praise -- The Odd Couple and Three Days of Rain -- have sold out largely because of the actors involved: Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the former, Julia Roberts in the latter.

Also, the concept of "premium seating" -- paying above top-listed price for the best seats -- also continued to contribute, as it has in previous years, to the total grosses. Though the average paid admission for a Broadway show usually ranges between $50 and $100, premium seats can cost upward of $250 for a center orchestra ticket on a weekend night.