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Irene Wreaks Big Box Office Losses on Broadway

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A man walks across 42nd Street in Times Square in New York on August 28, 2011 as Hurricane Irene hits the city and Tri State area with rain and high winds. A man walks across 42nd Street in Times Square in New York on August 28, 2011 as Hurricane Irene hits the city and Tri State area with rain and high winds. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty)

All 23 Broadway shows canceled their lucrative Saturday and Sunday performances this past weekend due to the transit shutdown mandated by Mayor Bloomberg in anticipation of Tropical Storm Irene. The closure resulted in major losses at the box office along the Great White Way.

All together, Broadway shows made just $11.6 million last week, around half as much as they would have normally, according to figures released by the Broadway League. The previous week, Broadway grosses were $20 million. Overall attendance was 131,000, as opposed to the 218,000 of the previous week.

That’s bad news in an industry with notoriously slim margins. But according to Variety theater writer Gordon Cox, the consequences aren’t dire for everybody. Less successful shows suffered, but Broadway’s blockbusters made out just fine.

“'Wicked’ and ‘The Lion King’ both managed to make $1 million last week, playing only five performances as opposed to the usual eight,” pointed out Cox. “That's more than enough to cover their running costs even if they had been going through the whole weekend.”

On the other end of the spectrum, “Billy Elliot” made just $358,000, compared with $732,000 the previous week. And “Follies” made only $481,000 instead of the $760,000 it could have.

Although the losses are significant, they may be covered in full or in part by insurance, according to Gordon Cox.

Broadway has long prided itself on staying open in even the most extreme of weather circumstances — take last winter’s blizzard for instance. In the past decade, the Great White Way went completely dark only twice: once during the 2003 blackout, and once during the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001.

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