Broadway Producers “Cautiously Optimistic” As Attendance Holds Steady Against Coronavirus Concerns; Stage Door Selfies Might Be A Problem Though

Broadway producers are “cautiously optimistic” as attendance figures for last week show little, if any, immediate impact from the global coronavirus scare.

Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League trade organization representing producers and theater owners, said in a conference call with reporters this afternoon that she was “even a bit surprised” with today’s box office figures indicating an increase in total Broadway attendance last week over the previous week.

“I look very carefully at the year over year” figures, St. Martin said, “and history says last week and the week before are two of the traditionally worst weeks we have every year” partially due to winter weather and families gearing up for spring break. She indicated last week’s figures were encouraging, “but we know it could possibly not be [like] this every week.”

According to the League’s weekly box office report released today, total attendance for the week ending March 8 was up 2% from the previous week, from 244,515 to 253,453. The most recent figure, however, represents 30 productions as opposed to the 28 from the previous week.  Averaged out, the per-show attendance was down a small 3%.

The 30 productions grossed a total $26,700,956 last week, up about 2% from the previous week’s tally.

The League does not compile statistics on advance ticket sales, but St. Martin said she’s heard “mixed responses” anecdotally, with some producers reporting declines and others not. St. Martin said she is aware of some school groups cancelling upcoming Broadway visits.

Last week, the League released a statement on behalf of producers and theater owners indicating that Broadway productions were performing on schedule – no virus-caused cancelations – and that theaters were being scrubbed and sanitized more than the usual daily cleanings. Patrons feeling ill are urged to exchange their tickets for future performances, or seek refunds from the point of purchase.

Other precautions are also being taken: Backstage visits to cast have largely been curtailed, and some productions have already nixed stage door meet & greets with the public. For those productions and actors continuing the autograph signings and selfies, Sharpie markers are being provided so performers needn’t handle the pens offered by fans. Actors are being told to sign Playbills without actually touching or holding the programs.

In addition to additional hand sanitizers available to patrons, soft drink cups are not being re-used for intermission refills, with new cups provided.

As for possible worst case scenarios – a quarantine or industry-wide shutdown – St. Martin said such extreme measures would be made by local, state or federal edict, not including individual venues or productions canceling performances due to a cast or audience member with a known exposure to the coronavirus. Though the possibility of livestreamed performances has been the subject of some speculation, St. Martin said it would be “very difficult” for productions to go that route due to cost and existing union rules.

For now at least, last week’s box office figures are offering some cause for optimism or relief. Audience enthusiasm for recent Broadway arrivals certainly helped fill seats. The much-anticipated The Lehman Trilogy sold out its first preview at the Nederlander Theatre, grossing $188,126, about 109% of potential (opening night is March 26), and director Marianne Elliott’s new production of Company took in $779,588 for six previews, with attendance of 6,279 at 102% of capacity at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. The musical revival starring Katrina Lenk (The Band’s Visit) and Patti LuPone opens March 22.

Six, the high-energy pop musical about Henry VIII’s wives, played to virtually full houses at the Brooks Atkinson. Even with press comps, the production grossed $884,878, 84% of potential. Six opens March 12. Diana, the Princess Di musical at the Longacre, played only six previews (one performance was canceled when actress Erin Davie – who plays Camilla Parker Bowles – suffered a vocal injury), with attendance of 5,448 at about 86% of capacity. Opening night is March 31.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, starring Laurie Metcalf and Rupert Everett with Joe Mantello directing, played its first six previews at the Booth, filling about 94% of seats for a gross of $344,818. The revival opens April 9.

The sole opener last week was Girl From The North Country, the Conor McPherson-Bob Dylan musical at the Belasco, filled 80% of seats, with press and opening night comps helping to keep receipts of $477,388 at just over half of b.o. potential.

In all, 12 of the 30 productions saw attendance of 98% of capacity or more: A Soldier’s Play, Come From Away, Company, Dear Evan Hansen, Hadestown, Hamilton, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Moulin Rouge!, Six, The Book of Mormon, The Lehman Trilogy and West Side Story.

Season to date, Broadway has grossed $1,358,648,521, down about 5% year to year. Total attendance stands at 11,137,787, off about 2% from last year at this time. The slight downward comparisons have been consistent since the early summer months.

All figures courtesy of the trade group Broadway League.

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