‘Les Miz’ beats Ahmanson box-office marks set by ‘Jersey Boys’
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“Les Miz” did les biz in L.A., setting box-office records during its recent seven-week run at the Ahmanson Theatre.
The touring musical about the travails of penniless 19th century Parisians earned $176,121 per show, easily outdoing the $156,854 that “Jersey Boys” harvested in 2007.
The matinee on July 31 –- closing day in L.A. -– brought in $207,607, the most ever for a single performance at the Ahmanson. In fact, 13 of the 55 performances in “Les Miserables”’ run beat the previous single-house record of $190,425 set by “Jersey Boys.”
The 25th-anniversary tour of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s blockbuster adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel played to 97% of capacity in the 2,074-seat house, said Douglas Baker, producing director of the Ahmanson’s parent organization, Center Theatre Group.
“That is really, really tough to do with any run” longer than a few nights, Baker said. “It exceeded even our highest expectations,” which were for perhaps 90% of capacity before “Les Miz” pulled into town on June 14. ‘Les Miserables’ will return next year to Southern California, with performances June 12-24 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts during its national tour.
The Ahmanson marks set by “Les Miz” follow hot on the heels of the star-studded “God of Carnage” setting box-office records for a non-musical play at the theater earlier this year.
Those new peaks don’t necessarily reflect a sudden big increase in audience appetites, so much as Center Theatre Group’s ability to ride a new, data-driven wave in the nonprofit performing arts that enables presenters to price hot-selling shows closer to what the market will bear.
Under “dynamic pricing,” or “variable pricing,” the term Baker prefers, CTG deploys software that provides up-to-the-minute figures on how each seat in the house is selling, compared with past averages. When tickets are flying, the company raises prices in the hot-selling sections so it can reap rewards from the law of supply and demand; when sales go cold, it lowers prices in hopes of filling otherwise empty seats. For both “Carnage” and “Les Miz,” tickets for the most in-demand sections rose as high as $200. As a matter of policy, Baker noted, balcony prices were not raised during the runs, and the longstanding Hot Tix program ensured that some tickets would be priced at $20 for each performance. For “God of Carnage,” 7.6% of the 97,567 seats sold were priced at $20.
With “Les Miserables,” Baker said, variable pricing boosted the gross almost 13% above what it would have been if all tickets had been sold at the original prices. (An aim of variable pricing is to train audiences, who increasingly like to keep their options open, to buy early or take out subscriptions as a hedge against cost-escalation during a run.)
Even setting aside gains reaped by raising prices during the run, Baker said, “Les Miz” was a bigger earner, on a per-show basis, than “Jersey Boys.”
“Les Miz” enjoyed a nice promotional boost from PBS, which on March 6 began airing the “Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert” taped at London’s 02 Arena. The broadcasts played into CTG’s decision to book the musical for a full seven weeks. “We figured it would help, absolutely,” said Baker, adding that the production’s new sets, inspired by Victor Hugo’s paintings, also were a nice draw that helped bring “Les Miz” fans back for another look.
Baker said it’s unlikely Ahmanson box-office records will keep falling at this year’s clip, although he has high hopes for “War Horse,” the nonmusical Broadway hit booked for next summer.
“Hopefully there’s another show or two in future seasons” that will repeat the “Carnage”/”Les Miz” effect, he said, “but I don’t see anything out there right now that has the sheer footing.”
Here are the top-grossing musicals in Ahmanson history, not counting “Phantom of the Opera,” which hunkered down for 1,772 performances from 1989 to 1993, earning $163 million.
1. “Les Miserables” (2011)
55 performances, $9.7 million gross, $176,121 average
2. “Jersey Boys” (2007)
115 performances, $18 million gross, $156,854 average
3. “Mary Poppins” (2009-10)
99 performances, $13.7 million gross, $138,526 average
4. “The Color Purple” (2007-08)
100 performances, $13.2 million gross, $131,971 average
-- Mike Boehm