High Ticket Prices Are Fueling a Broadway Boom

Courtesy of the New York Times:

Musicals about the aftermaths of a teenage suicide and a terror attack proved unlikely sensations. Star turns by Bette Midler, Josh Groban, Jake Gyllenhaal and Glenn Close added sizzle. And, led by “Hamilton” and “Hello, Dolly!,” the hottest shows started charging once unthinkably high prices for the best seats.

The Broadway season that ended on Sunday was one for the record books. Box-office grosses, which have been climbing since 2013, rose 5.5 percent, to $1.449 billion, a new high, according to figures released on Tuesday by the Broadway League, an industry trade group.

The growth, though, was fueled not by attendance, but by ticket cost. Producers, perfecting a strategy called dynamic pricing, used increasingly sophisticated analytics to adjust ticket prices to reflect varying demand on different days of the week and for different sections of a theater.

“Hamilton,” which continues to play to sold-out houses 21 months after opening, led the way, setting a record box-office price of $849 for many orchestra seats, in an effort to recapture profits being lost to resellers. “Hello, Dolly!,” starring Ms. Midler, has a top ticket of $748; “Sunday in the Park With George,” starring Mr. Gyllenhaal, was charging $499 for its most sought-after seats; and “The Book of Mormon” tops out at $477.

The new musicals are a touch less aggressive with pricing as they build their audiences: “Dear Evan Hansen,” about a high school student whose life is changed by the suicide of a classmate, is selling its best seats for $397, while “Come From Away,” about a Canadian town that welcomed diverted airline flights after the Sept. 11 attacks, has a top price of $297.

There are bargains available for all but the buzziest shows, but still: The average price paid for a Broadway ticket during the 2016-17 season was a record $109, up from $103 the previous season. And with several big-brand titles on the way — stage adaptations of the hit film “Frozen” and the best-selling Harry Potter books are scheduled to open next spring — Broadway’s blockbuster-led boom seems unlikely to end any time soon. It’s transforming the balance sheet of an industry which over the last three decades has fought its way back from a sorry period in which shows were scarce and theaters were being demolished.

“I’ve been on Broadway since 1982, and I’ve never seen such stunning numbers in my life,” said Barry Weissler, a longtime producer whose current shows include “Chicago” and “Waitress.” “It’s not about us charging more, it’s about the public wanting to see something they’re willing to pay for, and it’s an amazing credit to the work being done on Broadway.”

The big numbers mask continuing challenges for the industry. Broadway’s success is lopsided: Much of the profit goes to a small handful of shows, while a majority flop. Over the last 12 months, 81 productions played at some point during the season; about half of all the box-office revenue went to just 10 of those shows.

“The hits are bigger than they have been previously, but the shows that are not big boffo hits are struggling more,” said Jordan Roth, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which operates five Broadway houses.