Rent's Broadway Box Office Gets a Goose From Hollywood

News   Rent's Broadway Box Office Gets a Goose From Hollywood
Rent, the Broadway musical by Jonathan Larson, is heading toward its 10th anniversary on Broadway with an advance sale of $3 million, producer Jeffrey Seller told
Ava Gaudet in the current Broadway cast of Rent.
Ava Gaudet in the current Broadway cast of Rent. Photo by Joan Marcus

After nine years, several national tours, a London run and the Nov. 23 release of the motion picture, Rent is now enjoying renewed vibrancy at the box office of the Nederlander Theatre in New York City.

Thanksgiving Week (Nov. 21-27) was about 97 percent sold out, Seller said, with a $745,000 gross that week. In 2004, the box office there was $490,000 for same holiday week.

What accounts for the bump in sales?

"The movie," Seller said. "The trailer, the TV commercial, the print campaign. All the Broadway types bemoan [that the film] hasn't done gigantic business. The movie has already done $24 million! Just do the math. That means over three million people have seen this movie. Do you know how long it takes me to get three million people into the Nederlander Theatre? We get 400,000 a year. We're talking about 5-6 years [of business] in two weeks of a movie. Let's say when this movie is all said and done in the movie theatres, six million people have seen it. That'll be more people than have ever seen it [on stage]!"

And that number is before the film appears in European and other international markets, and on DVD, cable and broadcast TV. And the more people who see the film, the more potential there is for crossover business into the Nederlander?

"This movie is going to feed this show forever," Seller said. "Is the bump [in sales] typical of my last five years? I would tell you no."

The advance for Broadway is "double what it was a year ago," he said. "Our advance now is $2 ½ million in cash; with groups, it's $3 million. I haven't had a $3 million advance in five years. This started last summer, believe it or not. We are up in sales for the year 20 percent."

After a sluggish September, October weeks were at 80 percent or more of capacity, with a mix of half-price and full-price sales.

Asked if attention from the film and the upcoming 10th anniversary (April 29, 2006) might prompt a fresh national tour, Seller said, "I don't know." Equity and non-Equity tours of the musical scoured the country in the last decade.

The print ad campaign for Broadway recently underwent an overhaul.

"We've recently done a little revitalization of the art, no question, with the original artist, Amy Guip," Seller said, "We don't do very much print… We changed it for the purposes of outdoor signage. It says 'Rent Now.'"

What about reaching out to film fans with the words "Rent Live"?

"We haven't made plans to do that at this point," he said.

Seller — whose projects since Rent have included Baz Luhrmann's La Bohème and Avenue Q on Broadway, and the new regional sensation Irving Berlin's White Christmas — is still high on Rent, the starless Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning musical he shepherded to Broadway from Off-Broadway in 1996.

"You know what the best thing about Rent is? When teenagers and young adults go see Rent today, it feels relevant to their lives," he said. "It's speaking to them. They were five when it came out. It's still speaking to young people. If it didn't it wouldn't be running."

Top price for Rent is $95 on weekends. The weeknight low is $45, not counting the lottery at each performance that allows for the chance of $20 tickets in the first two rows of the orchestra.

Michael Greif directed the musical, set in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan "at the end of the millennium." Inspired by the opera La Bohème, it tells of a family of bohemian friends and lovers struggling with romance, mortality and artistic integrity in the age of AIDS.

The current Broadway cast includes Joshua Kobak as Roger, Matt Caplan as Mark, Destan Owens as Tom Collins, D'Monroe as Benny, Kenna Ramsey as Joanne, Justin Johnston as Angel, Antonique Smith as Mimi, Ava Gaudet as Maureen, Nicolette Hart as Mark's mom and others, Marcus Paul James as Mr. Jefferson and others, Frenchie Davis as Mrs. Jefferson and "Seasons of Love" soloist, Colin Hanlon as Gordon and others, Robin De Jesús as Steve and others, Shaun Earl as Paul and others, and Mayumi Ando as Alexi Darling, Roger’s mom and others.

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