Tony Award Nominations Boost Some Broadway Musicals, While Covid Scuttles Others

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One week after the Tony Awards announced their nominees, and two weeks after a frightening drop in attendance, Broadway soldiers on through a jampacked spring.

Overall sales for the industry this week were down 3% to $30.35 million. However, most of that loss was Moulin Rouge! cancelling half its performances due to a Covid outbreak in the company. The Skin of Our Teeth, too, cancelled shows, though it’s grossing much less than Moulin in general, and its nonprofit status insulates it somewhat from profit-driven vagaries.

Another down hit, SUFFS, also cancelled a number of performances, reinforcing Covid’s continuing threat as cases rise across the country. As one SUFFS producer said on an Instagram post: “We may be done with the virus, but the virus isn’t done with us.

Despite the outbreaks, Broadway was still fizzing with Tony buzz, and most productions saw modest gains in week-to-week sales. Overall attendance is still depressed, however, as Covid concerns mingle with an oversaturated market. Total attendance dropped slightly to 246,000, leaving about a fifth of all seats empty. There is simply too much content on Broadway for the amount of buyers it’s trying to attract, at least at current prices – a fact underscored by a massive 100,000-ticket discount program launched by ticketing platform TodayTix.

However, as has been the case since it reopened in the fall, these numbers are not uniform from show to show. Old stalwarts like Hamilton, The Lion King, and Wicked are selling well. It’s the new shows – particular new plays – that are struggling for a foothold. For some, then, the Tony nominations came as a needed reprieve, providing some measure (however incomplete) of prioritizing options for cagey buyers.

A Strange Loop, nominated for Best Musical and 10 other awards, got the biggest boost, with sales jumping almost 45% for a total gross of $690,668. There’s still room to grow, but the show is far steadier than it has been in recent weeks. Its major hurdle is now, oddly, a troubling issue with its sound design, leaving many performers under-amplified, which audiences have been griping about for weeks. This should be an easy fix, but when I saw the show last weekend (with a marvelous understudy, Kyle Ramar Freeman, in the lead role) I couldn’t hear at least a third of the lyrics. Fingers crossed the producers sort it out soon.

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As for the rest of the nominees, Tony recognition provided modest benefits at the box office. Billy Crystal’s Mr. Saturday Night, a Best Musical contender, technically got a larger boost (up $293k), but much of that was due to resuming a 7-show schedule after missing two performances the week before. Meanwhile, A Strange Loop’s major competition, Six, was already grossing over $1 million, one of few new bona fide hits. Still, it still managed to squeak in an extra $30k after nabbing eight nominations.

Otherwise, results were as expected. Michael Jackson musical MJ has been effectively reaching its fans for months, and stayed flat at $1.4 million. Paradise Square’s 10 noms didn’t do much against glum reviews; it’s still grossing less than $250,000, which is deadly for a musical that cost $13.5 million to launch and features a cast of 54. And Girl From The North Country only got a tiny boost despite seven noms including Best Musical, with overall sales only slightly higher than Paradise Square. The Bob Dylan jukebox has had an awful run of luck: it opened just before the pandemic started in 2020, reopened just before the Omicron wave, was forced to close in January, and reopened again in April. Producers did, however, recently film it for a future screen and streaming life.

As for revivals, frontrunner Company got a solid 17% bump to $720,000, while Take Me Out was up almost 35%, though a large part of that was due to an added performance. Funny Girl, which received savage reviews and little Tony love, stayed afloat, grossing $1.3 million; expect that number to deflate in a few weeks once the pre-opening advance dries up. More heartening: for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf saw sales jump almost 60% after seven nominations and a grassroots campaign led by independent producer Ayanna Prescod. Overall gross was still low at $249,000, but it’s welcome news for the production, which added two weeks to its truncated run.

Best Play frontrunner The Lehman Trilogy closed earlier this winter, and its competition got little in the way of a Tony bump. Hangmen, with five noms, still failed to crack $300,000, and filled fewer than half its available seats. (Nihilistic comedy about capital punishment is a tough sell, and the show’s casual racism and fat-shaming can’t be helping.) Dark dramedy The Minutes is doing slightly better, grossing almost $387,000, but only garnered a single nom for Best Play, and features a divisive ending that may be slowing word of mouth. Raunchy farce POTUS fared the best, with sales up 21% to almost $462,000 – and that’s without a Best Play nom, to boot. It’s still only filling about half its seats, though.

In the coming weeks, the industry is likely to see only more polarization, as buyers flock to old favorites and a few choice newbies. The Tonys themselves will be awarded on June 12, after which the culling will intensify.

The upside to the coming market correction? Plenty of available real estate for new shows later this year.

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