Times Theater Critic

Broadway closed the books on its 1984-85 theater season last week, not too happily. Business wasn't as bad as recent press coverage would indicate, but there were fewer new shows than ever before, and attendance was the lowest in 10 years.

Variety keeps the closest tab on the Broadway box office, and these were the pertinent figures:

Gross Receipts: $208 million (as opposed to $223 million last season.)

Attendance: 7.1 million (7.9 million.)

New Shows: 31 (36.)

Not too dreadful, especially when you add the $226 million income from Broadway road shows. (As usual, Los Angeles was the top road city, with a $48-million gross--well above Washington's $32-million gross.) The problem was that business has been on the downside since the early '80s, and the trend may not have bottomed out.

A special worry, as was evident on last Sunday's Tony Awards broadcast, was the decline in new musicals. The only hit was "Big River," and that doesn't seem to have the stuff of a superhit, a la "Cats" or "A Chorus Line," now in its 10th year on Broadway, with no sign of slowing down.

The only increase noted in the statistics was that of the average price for a Broadway theater ticket: $29.06, contrasted with $28.68 last year. Guess what the average price was 10 years ago? $9.86. That could be the major reason for the Broadway blahs: charging more than the market will bear.

Speaking of "A Chorus Line," its creator, Michael Bennett, has dropped plans for a new Broadway musical, "Scandals," after four workshop productions in his own studio. Instead, he'll stage the new Tim Rice musical, "Chess," in London.

Peter Sellars' staging of "The Count of Monte Cristo" for the Kennedy Center's American National Theater has received the most wildly varying set of reviews in years--which Sellars thinks is just fine.

Speaking at Washington's National Press Club last week, Sellars blasted "the appalling assumption that everyone has to agree on everything. People have to be allowed to hate things. "The point is at what level and how deeply something affects our lives," he told the group, according to the UPI's Marie Colvin. "The experiences that make us find out about ourselves what we might not have known . . . are the ones that we don't know how we will survive."

Sellars also got in his licks on the Broadway situation. "If you want to see theater in America, make New York your last stop," he said. We'll have a report on Sellars' "Count of Monte Cristo" in Sunday's Calendar.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. David Rabe ("Hurlyburly") on the difference between actors and playwrights: "Actors do their first drafts in public."

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