H. Todd Freeman, vice president of operations at ticket broker Applause Theatre & Entertainment Service, Inc., said the success of "The Lion King" is due to its family draw, big visuals and ticket prices that were double those for "Phantom" when it started.
Both shows now use premium pricing — offering deep-pocketed theatergoers the best seats for a hefty mark up. On Monday, both shows had top premium tickets of about $200. Even so, "The Lion King" still commands a higher average ticket price and shows no signs of softening.
"Will it make 25? I don't know," said Freeman, who admits he never thought rival "Phantom" would last this long. "It holds up pretty well all year long but the times when it is the strongest is the Christmas breaks, the Easter breaks, the Spring breaks and the summertime."
The two share some attributes: Both have musical giants behind them: "Phantom" has songs by Lloyd Webber and is directed by Harold Prince, while "The Lion King" features music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice and the vision of Taymor.
Both have multiple Tony Awards, movie tie-ins, simple-to-understand stories and are spectacles — important for attracting tourists whose command of English might be weak. Both are not dependent on having stars on stage. And both call home in similar-sized theaters, "Phantom" at the 1,605-seat Majestic and "Lion" at the 1,677-seat Minskoff.
The staying power of each is remarkable. Over their first 750 playing weeks — which "The Lion King" has recently reached — they've played to roughly the same number of people: "The Lion King" at 10,092,235 and "Phantom" at 9,241,333.
Most shows that have achieved a ripe old age never appear in the top 10 by this point in their ages, but both "Lion" and "Phantom" are still routinely among the top earners, week in and week out. On the other side of the ledger, over 500 shows have opened and closed on Broadway during lifetime of "The Lion King."
Ginell tips his cap to the new box office king and doesn't see a time soon when it abandons its kingdom. "'Lion King' is the perfect family musical and I think it always will be as long as expenses don't go so far up that they won't be able to afford to put it on anymore."
"The Lion King": http://www.lionking.com
"Phantom of the Opera": http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com
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