Broadway lights shining brightly

/ Source: CNBC

With the holidays almost upon us, some 35 shows currently are up and running on Broadway. That’s more than usual; 25 is more normal for this time of year. There is no shortage of flops, but there’s also some good news — like the return of two of Broadway’s favorites.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick return to the roles they created over two years ago in the megahit musical, “The Producers.” The show’s box office took a hit after they left, but it’s a hot ticket again, at least for the four weeks they’re back beginning Dec. 30.

Other hits right now — and we define that as those selling more than 90 percent of seats — include:

“Wicked,” which is based on the witches from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“The Boy from Oz” stars movie star Hugh Jackman, who returns to his stage roots in this look at the life of the late songwriter Peter Allen.

“Hairspray,” which is still starring Harvey Fierstein in the role he made famous.

“Mamma Mia” featuring music of the 70’s group Abba woven into three love stories.

But for every smash hit, there are shows don’t make it. Entertainment Lawyer Seth Gelblum, who runs the theatrical department for law firm Loeb and Loeb and considered by many one of the top three attorneys on Broadway, acknowledges the tumult of the last year.

“I think people have to remember that art is hard; it just is,” he said. “You don’t do this for a sure return. On the other hand, when it does work, it can very lucrative very quickly.”

But Gelblum just as quickly acknowledges the tumult of the last year or so, including misses like:

“Sweet Smell of Success,” which was based on the film.

“Dance of the Vampires,” the multi-million-dollar Michael Crawford vehicle.

“Urban Cowboy,” a new musical

“Flower Drum Song,” a revival of the 1958 musical.

“Bobbi Boland,” a Farrah Fawcett comedy that closed after one week of previews.

and most recently, “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” which closed after one performance.

Still, though the business of Broadway is as volatile as ever, if you add it all up the industry is growing, according to Robert Hofler, theater reporter for the trade bible Variety.

“If you look at it in the 80s, there weren’t as many shows running on Broadway,” he said. “Paid attendance overall was 8 million a year in 90s, and we’re now up to 12 million. So it certainly has grown.”

One big question mark is “Taboo,” the $10 million musical starring Boy George and produced by Rosie O’Donnell with her own money. So far, despite mostly negative reviews and sluggish sales, O’Donnell is refusing to close her show.

“That’s the amazing thing about the theater,” he said. “Everyone does it because they’re passionate about it. ... People really respect good work, even if it’s not commercial work.”

Fewer than 20 percent of Broadway shows make back their investment, at least while on Broadway. But if Broadway poses record risks to producers these days, it also promises greater riches than ever before.

Who’s going to shows these days? The average age is 43; there are more women than men, and some 80 percent are Caucasian. The average household income is $107,000; with orchestra seats going for $100 each, it’s easy to see why income needs to be as high as it is.