The Sydney Theatre Company production of The Present – Andrew Upton’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Platonov – was the third highest-grossing play during the 2016–17 Broadway season, taking US$10.9 million at the box office during its 14-week run.
Despite a mix of excellent and less enthusiastic reviews, Cate Blanchett’s performance won her a Tony nomination and was unanimously praised. Her pulling power was doubtless a part of the production’s success.
Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in STC’s The Present on Broadway. Photograph © Joan Marcus
Speaking to Limelight, STC Artistic Director Kip Williams said: “We are extremely happy with the result, particularly given it was one of the highest grossing non-musicals of the season.”
Asked if the success of the play has translated into any kind of financial profit for the Company, he admitted, “no, that’s not necessarily the nature of the relationship. We didn’t make money from the enterprise, but for us, STC going to Broadway with The Present was always a culture-driven exercise and the major success for us is landing an Australian written show on Broadway with 13 Australian actors and an Australian design team – and for it to have been received in the way that it was, was extraordinary for us.”
Williams says that he would like to see STC return to the Great White Way at some point. “Broadway is a kind of Mecca for theatre reallly and for us to be able to have our work shown in that context is a huge achievement and something that I would very much be looking for the Company to repeat at some point in the future.”
The Present came in behind The Front Page, starring Nathan Lane and John Slattery, which was the top grossing play for the season taking $22 million over an 18-week season. The Humans, which won four Tony Awards including Best New Play for 2016, took $18.3 million over a relatively long run 11-month run, while the comedy Oh, Hello took $10.1 million over 15-weeks.
According to figures released on Tuesday by industry trade group the Broadway League, it was a record-breaking year on Broadway, with gross box office takings of $1.45 billion for the 2016-2017 season, which ended on Sunday. This was $80 million more than the previous record set last year, representing a 5.5 percent increase. Attendances, however, were slightly down for the first time in four years, slipping from a record 13.32 million the previous year to 13.27 million. This was partly due to the fact that the total number of playing weeks was 80 less than during the 2015–16 season.
The bumper box office reflected increased ticket prices, with premium seats for Hamilton costing a whopping $849, followed by a top price of $748 for Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler. As a result, the average ticket price was a record $109 up from $103 the previous season.
Musicals proved the biggest drawcards for audiences with the top grossing musicals far out-selling the top-grossing plays. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap musical Hamilton – which continues to play to sold-out houses 21 months after opening – led the way with takings of $129.9 million over 52 weeks. It was followed by The Lion King ($104.8 million), Wicked ($91.3 million), Aladdin ($79.3 million) and The Book of Mormon ($69.5 million).
Josh Groban helped draw crowds to Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, David Malloy’s musical adaptation of a part of War and Peace, which has taken $33.8 million since it began playing in October. Pasek & Paul’s Dear Evan Hansen, about a high school student whose life is changed by a classmate’s suicide, which opened a few weeks later has taken $30 million, while Hello, Dolly!, which began previewing on March 15 this year, has already raked in $18.4 million.
As The New York Times noted: “The big numbers mask continuing challenges for the industry. Broadway’s success is lopsided: Much of the profit goes to a small handful of shows, while a majority flop. Over the last 12 months, 81 productions played at some point during the season; about half of all the box-office revenue went to just 10 of those shows.”
The New York Times also highlighted the concerning disparity in takings between straight drama and musicals, saying: “Another challenge the annual grosses made clear: The season was not great, financially, for non-musical plays. Three of the four Tony nominees for best new plays this year (Indecent, Sweat and A Doll’s House, Part 2) have struggled to sell seats; the exception is Oslo, staged by the non-profit Lincoln Center Theater, which has been selling well. Only about 10 percent of the season’s total grosses went to plays, compared with 89 percent for musicals and 1 percent for special events.”