The spring hasn’t exactly been the bastion of renewal Broadway had hoped for.
According to data provided by The Broadway League, as of May 15, 2022, the 2021-2022 Broadway season had grossed $812,064,730. At that time, during Broadway’s last uninterrupted season (the 51st week of 2018-2019), the season had grossed $1,793,406,470. That’s a deficit of $981,341,740, or 112.5% (although this current Tony-eligible season began in August 2021 rather than May). A different look: The week after this year’s Tony nominations grossed $30,349,653; that same week in 2019 took in $35,092,351 — a difference of $4,742,698, or 15.6%.
Given that in the week before 2022 Tony nominations Broadway’s grosses seemed dire (bringing in $29 million compared to $38.4 million in the same week of 2019), this can be seen as a hopeful rebound. If history is any indication, the Tonys broadcast (on June 12) should boost Broadway’s box office — and the recent nominations announcement and subsequent sales figures say it should be.
“The trajectory of nominations mimicked what a typical Tony season would look like: Shows that got a lot of nominations did really well; we saw increases,” says Stephen Santore, managing director of SpotCo, one of Broadway’s premiere advertising and marketing firms. “[This] is a great indication that we’re back in the sort of natural cycle of what a Tony race and Tony wins can do and Tony performances could do for a show.”
The race is already paying dividends. “The added visibility brought by Tony nominations and awards is definitely significant,” says Khady Kamara, executive director of Second Stage Theater (which is nominated this season for its productions of “Clyde’s” and “Take Me Out”). The nonprofit has seen a bump in ticket sales, but “the most important is in the increased visibility and awareness for the artists and the plays.”
Speaking of visibility, “Having the most nominations is a huge asset,” Santore continues, noting that “A Strange Loop,” which leads with 11 nods, is likely benefiting from that. (The Pulitzer-winning musical’s weekly grosses were up 44.86% from the previous week following nominations.) “After [the announcement], it’s deciding where your lane is, where you think you have unique opportunity to talk to Tony voters.”
Swaying voters to garner a win — specifically in the Best Musical or Best Play categories — historically draws big returns. “Of the shows SpotCo’s worked on, Monday’s wrap after the Sunday Awards [we typically see a] 275 to 300% increase if they win Best Musical. It’s about a 100% increase for [Best Play].”
For some shows, a win could mean the difference between staying open versus closing. For example, Santore says, “‘Gentleman’s Guide’ [in 2014] was not going to make it past summer if they didn’t win. So every effort for that show was put toward winning a Tony Award because we knew if we did, that show’s life would be dramatically extended, which it was [to January 2016].”
For its campaign leading up to that win, “Gentleman’s Guide” leveraged its critical acclaim (the show’s slogan became “the best-reviewed show on Broadway”) into the most nominations of its season (nine), and then pushed that message of “most Tony-nominated show.”
Then again, winning isn’t everything. Musicals, specifically, can parlay their live performance on the Tony Awards broadcast into ticket sales.
The 2006 musical performance from “The Wedding Singer” is often referenced as an exemplar of this. More recently, Santore says the 2019 “Beetlejuice” performance was “the trajectory-changer for that show.” Despite eight nods, the undead musical walked away trophyless. And yet, “the Tony performance and people seeing what that show is about and the comedy and the wit… Over time you saw how that singular performance made a big difference.”
“We always aimed to showcase a truly theatrical event for the camera,” says Seth Sklar-Heyn, executive producer of Cameron Mackintosh Inc., who was responsible for the Tony performances of the recent “Les Misérables” and “Miss Saigon” revivals. “We want to celebrate what we achieve on a stage in live performance, and with those shows we looked to excite an audience at home by capturing the epic scale of our stories balanced with the detail and humanity of our companies in close-up. Hopefully viewers feel the energy of the event and the camera enhances dimensions and access to the performances in a special way, putting them a bit more into the action.”
Sklar-Heyn notes that a close collaboration between the show team and the television director and producer was key in creating an impactful performance that inhabited the space but was made for the camera. Sklar-Heyn and the team also “set out to create a mini-narrative,” planting a flag for viewers to understand clearly what the show is about.
Of course, plays don’t seem to have that same opportunity. The Tonys broadcast continues to experiment with methods to showcase straight plays (video montages, playwrights describing their own work), but none has made a tangible difference in sales. Perhaps this year a new approach by the telecast’s directors could change that.
Shows that opened this season should benefit most from Tony night overall — even though new and long-running shows have struggled to fill houses. (In the last reported week, “The Music Man” and “Hadestown” were the only productions of the 35 currently running to sell at 100% capacity.)
The industry as a whole has worked hard to rebound after the shutdown. “Broadway’s actually done a really good job at bringing in new audiences and bringing audiences back,” says Santore. “When we look at the numbers now, we can pretty much isolate where some of the missing gross is and that’s in domestic and international tourism.
“I don’t think Broadway, frankly, can do anything about increasing numbers back to New York City. That is a tourism thing that is an inflation thing,” he continues. “There’s a million different reasons why tourism maybe isn’t where it needs to be to sustain the grosses we were accustomed to in 2019.” But Broadway is working to develop audiences closer to home and fill that gap.
“Trying to cultivate new audiences is really, really tricky,” says Santore. “You have to plant these seeds for years down the road — which we’re doing — but it’s really hard for it to materialize in sales in a single calendar season.” The Tony Awards themselves are yet another seed, showing the world the apex of the art. Time will tell if Broadway reaps the rewards of that planting.