By Claudia Parsons
NEW YORK - Broadway theaters defied the recession to post record ticket sales in the 2008/09 season in what the Broadway League attributed to a need for escapism.
The trade association representing theater owners, operators and producers said in the 12 months to May 24, paid attendance on Broadway in New York was 12.15 million tickets, slightly lower than the 12.27 million the previous season.
But producers still managed to raise gross takings by US$6 million ($8.71 million), or 0.6 percent, to US$943.3 million, beating the previous record set in the 2006/07 season of US$938.5 million.
"As we have proven, if you put on a great show, people will come -- even in the midst of an economic downturn," Broadway League Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin said in a statement. "Research has shown that theater provides escape from everyday life and especially during these tough times, we have given the audiences a reason to see a show."
The season saw the opening of 43 new shows, the highest number since the 1982/83 season.
Escapism is also credited with boosting the movie industry, which is seeing double-digit growth in box office takings.
The fact that Broadway was able to keep its head above water is important for New York City's tourism industry, with American and foreign visitors making up an estimated 65 percent of Broadway's public.
The Broadway League says the 39 theaters in the famous district contribute US$5.1 billion per year to the economy of New York, on top of ticket sales, and support 44,000 jobs.
Revivals of classic musicals "Hair" and "West Side Story" have been among the biggest hits of the season.
The Broadway League also credits strong ticket sales to the concentration of big name stars, including Katie Holmes, Angela Lansbury, James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon.
Hot favorite to scoop up Broadway's top honors, the Tony Awards, is "Billy Elliot, The Musical," which has 15 nominations ahead of the June 7 ceremony.
"Next to Normal," a musical about a suburban family coping with a crisis, has 11 nominations, while the revival of "Hair" and "Shrek The Musical," based on the 1990 book and 2001 Oscar-winning DreamWorks film about a green ogre and a princess, each has eight Tony nominations.