Broadway’s 3rd Quarter results: The final furlong begins.

We’ve rounded the last turn on this Broadway season.  There are just thirteen weeks to go before we put another one in the books.

But will this one go in the record books?

It looks like the answer is yes . . . for two very different reasons.

At the end of the third quarter, our grosses are still up a fractional .5% over last year’s numbers.  If we can hold on to that itsy-bitsy growth, Broadway will have another record-grossing year.

To be honest, I thought we’d have dropped into negative territory this quarter, but we managed to hold steady. How?  Remember those 2 million dollar Wicked weeks?  Our biggest hits, including Wicked and J-Boys, mastered variable and premium pricing this year, and made up for the big grossing shows (Steady Rain, Hamlet, etc.) that came and went.

On the other end of the spectrum, our attendance is still down an unfortunate 4% from last year, which means my pre-season prediction of a drop in seasonal attendance for the third year in a row looks to be as sure as a Tony nom for Liev Schreiber.  Why will this drop go in the record books?  It’s the third drop in a row, and that hasn’t happened in 25 years.  (To cut us some slack, this last year we were in the midst of a slight economic crisis, in case any of you haven’t heard.)

But we’ve still got one quarter left, and a couple of big musicals in big houses yet to open, not to mention all those plays.  Maybe we’ll see a turnaround?

As we head into the final furlong, I’ll be cheering hard for a come-from-behind win at the wire.  But I’m not rooting for the grosses to go up . . . it’s that attendance figure I want to even out.

Unfortunately, that one’s a real long shot.

What’s the West End doing right that we aren’t?

2009 was a thermometer-bursting year for West End theater.

Despite the world economic crisis, the West End set a record with a yearly gross of £504,765,690 or approximately $786,134,270, which is a 7.6% increase (!) from the previous year.

But that’s not what’s got me curious/burning with envy.

Even us tea partiers can keep the grosses going up year after year, thanks to our yearly price increase.

What’s remarkable about the London figures is that they’ve also managed to increase their attendance at the same time, by a whopping 5.5%, to a 2009 total of 14,257,922 theatergoers.

And this was all in the midst of a monumental recession!

Huh.  An increase in gross and an increase in attendance.  Isn’t that exactly what’s supposed to happen?

But it’s not happening here in the colonies.  We’re on track to see a drop in attendance for the third season in a row, despite slight increases in our grosses.

What is London doing right?

Is it the half price booths on every block?  Is it because they let you eat and drink in the theatres?  Is it because Hollywood stars seem even more willing to do West End productions than Broadway productions?

Is it because they have a Queen and Princes and say things like “bollocks”?

Nica Burns, the President of the Society of London Theatre (their version of our Broadway League), had this to say about the increases:

Britain’s artistic community continues to create exceptional work. The extraordinary quality and breadth of productions available nightly in London explains these record figures in such a difficult year economically.  Excellence is everything – look no further than London’s theatre which adds a great deal more to London’s revenue than just the ticket price.

Well said.  This is a product-driven industry on both sides of the ocean.  My only quibble is that I’d trade the word “excellence” with the phrase, “The Rumpelstiltskin Factor.”  When people are willing to give their first born away to see a show (whether or not it’s any “good”) that’s when numbers are going to increase.

If we had 12 Steady Rain-like shows with 12 Hugh Jackmans, our mercury would be rising, too.  12 Wickeds, 12 Will Ferrell’s and so on and so forth.

Still, it can’t just be that.  These increases suggest a different sort of energy occurring in the West End than is occurring here.  And I’m not quite sure what it is.

But I tell you this . . . I’d almost be willing to give them back one of the colonies in exchange for the secret.

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