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Broadway Tickets Are More Expensive Now Than Before the Pandemic – and Attendance Is Strong

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  • Tickets for blockbuster Broadway shows are more expensive now than they were before the pandemic.
  • Despite the pricey tickets, there's pent-up demand and attendance is strong – with many shows playing to sold-out or nearly full houses.
  • A little more than half of the 22 current shows on Broadway are posting weekly grosses of more than $1 million.

Ticket prices for many blockbuster Broadway shows have become more expensive, as theatergoers are paying up for an evening out on the Great White Way.

Audiences appear to be eager to catch up on lost time, as the latest Covid wave has abated a great deal. All Broadway shows went dark back on March 12, 2020, during the pandemic's early days. Several shows never returned, but those that did, saw a staggered reopening in the fall —ending an unprecedented hiatus.

For the first time since shows resumed performances, the Broadway League on Tuesday released weekly box-office grosses for individual Broadway musicals and plays. The league, which is essentially Broadway's trade association, had previously chosen to suspend that weekly practice even after shows got back up and running in the fall and into the winter.

Here are some key takeaways from the figures for the most recent week, which ended March 20:

  • There are higher ticket prices and fewer discounts, particularly for blockbuster musicals – especially the more family oriented ones. "Aladdin," "The Lion King" and "Wicked" – as well as the stalwart "The Phantom of the Opera" – are among the shows seeing a significantly higher average ticket price compared with March 2020.
  • Despite the pricey tickets, there's pent-up demand and attendance is strong. Many shows are playing to sold-out or nearly full houses. Sixteen of the 22 productions playing on Broadway filled 90% or more of the seats in their theaters.
  • Twelve of the 22 shows on Broadway are posting weekly grosses of more than $1 million. Just before the pandemic closure, only a third of shows playing at the time were grossing that much. However, there were far more shows two years ago: 30 productions were running before the pandemic stoppage, with 10 grossing at least $1 million a week.
  • Theatergoers are paying a premium to see stars. X-Men star Hugh Jackman and Broadway's leading lady, Sutton Foster, headline the revival of "The Music Man," which opened in February. That production grossed a staggering $3.5 million in a week and had an average ticket price of $283. Both figures are by far the highest on the Great White Way. "Hamilton" came in second with an average of $213, and it was the only other show that grossed more than $2 million. The Neil Simon revival "Plaza Suite," starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, drew just under $213 per ticket. Right before the pandemic, only "Hamilton" saw an average price over $200 on Broadway.
  • Take a look, too, at the highest ticket prices for each of those three shows. "The Music Man" set the bar at $697, "Plaza Suite" pulled in $549, and "Hamilton" registered at $449.

The most recent box-office grosses, ticket prices and attendance figures are a stark contrast to what happened around the holiday season and into January. The Christmastime weeks are historically the most important weeks of the year for Broadway productions. That's when they can charge premium prices and basically play to full theaters thanks to the holiday season.

But that changed late in 2021 when the omicron surge once again crippled business on Broadway. Although just about all Broadway actors, musicians, theater personnel and theatergoers were required to be vaccinated, they were not immune to the highly contagious variant. Some Broadway shows had to pause for a few days – or in some cases weeks – because so many in the cast and crew tested positive. In January, which is usually a more challenging time of the year to fill houses, audiences stayed away because of the virus, and attendance suffered even more.

In addition to publishing the most recent week's data, the Broadway League also released all the past weeks' data that had been withheld since Broadway's fall reopening. Those figures provided insight into how difficult business was in the wake of omicron. Take a look at the week ended Jan. 16 as an example:

  • More than half of the shows open at the time (14 out of 25) were playing to theaters that were under 75% full.
  • The theater was only 67% full for "Wicked." The hit musical grossed under $1.1 million that week – far below the $1.9 million it grossed in its most recent week.
  • "Phantom of the Opera" only filled 45% of its seats that week. It grossed a little more than half a million dollars – a fraction of the $959,000 that it did it the latest week.
  • Attendance for "Hamilton" dropped to 78% of capacity – which would be otherwise unheard of for the hit show.
Copyright CNBC
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