Broadway theatre and touring shows reached more than 26.8 million people nationwide during the 1997-98 season, grossing more than $1.3 billion, according to figures supplied by the League of American Theatres and Producers. During the season that ran June 1, 1997 to May 31, 1998, that dollar figure matched almost to the dollar last year's box office take, though overall attendance was down slightly from 1996-97's 28.2 million theatregoers.
The even numbers come despite a record-setting season in New York in which the Great White Way collected more than $557 million, an 11.7 percent jump over the previous year's $499.5 million. Causing the plateau was decreased income on the road, where box office receipts totaled $721 million, down from last season's $781.8 million, which itself was down from 1995-6's $810 million.
Those lowered road figures can, in part, be explained by the fact that only 34 road shows criss-crossed the United States during the year, sharply less than 1996-97's 46 productions. Also, 1997-98 boasted only 1,125 playing weeks to the prior season's 1,334 (if 10 shows play 10 weeks, that's 100 playing weeks).
In New York, meanwhile, the season's attendance figure of 11,283,378 was a 4.2 percent increase over the long-standing record of 10,822,324 set in 1980-81.
The record Gotham numbers can be attributed, in large part, to two phenomena: The New Amsterdam Theatre and the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Both Broadway houses opened for business during the past season, Disney opening The Lion King in the first and Livent bringing its Ragtime to the latter. Together, the two hit musicals accounted for $44 million of the $57 million jump in Broadway income, to say nothing of the theatres' contribution to attendance figures. The season officially ended May 31 and covered 52 weeks. There were 32 Broadway new productions during the year (last season saw 38), and ticket prices averaged $49.39, a leap of nearly a dollar over last season.
For a wrapup of events onstage and backstage this season, see Biggest News Stories of 1997-98 in U.S. Theatre News.
-- By Robert Simonson