`Lion King' is a roaring success at Hippodrome

During its 14-week run, sales top $15 million

September 07, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Ticket sales for the 14-week run of The Lion King that ended Sunday at the Hippodrome Theatre totaled more than $15 million, and the show was seen by nearly 230,000 people, according to figures released yesterday by the Hippodrome Foundation and Clear Channel Entertainment, which operates the theater.

The Mid-Atlantic debut of the 1998 Tony Award-winning musical played to audiences averaging 97 percent capacity. With allowances for seats the show used for promotional or other purposes, "we literally sold everything that we could," said Marks Chowning, executive director of the Hippodrome.

Fifty-five percent of the theatergoers came from Baltimore city and county, with most of the remaining 45 percent from Washington, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the Eastern Shore. "It was exactly what we wanted it to be in terms of really establishing the facility as a true regional facility," Chowning said.

The Lion King - whose run was the longest of any touring show in Baltimore theater history - consistently earned at least $1 million per week, except for its opening week, which had an abbreviated performance schedule. The only other show to break the $1 million per week mark here was Mamma Mia! in the final two weeks of its May 2004 run.

In terms of economic impact, The Lion King could represent as much as $40 million in spending in metropolitan Baltimore, Chowning said, referring to such categories as hotels, restaurants, parking revenues, salaries and supplies.

"You look back at the arguments for doing this project - meaning the theater renovation - and the reason we wanted to be able to do the project was to attract these kinds of shows," he said. "We wish we could have [The Lion King] once a year."

Numbers, however, reflect only part of what the show accomplished over the summer. Company members were also involved in a considerable amount of community outreach, much of it in conjunction with the Hippodrome Foundation.

Brandye Lee, a member of the dance ensemble who coordinated the outreach programs, said the show did more benefits and events in 14 weeks in Baltimore than it did in 32 weeks in Boston last year.

Among these events were a master class at the Morton Street Dance Center; a daylong event called Camp Lion King, in which 140 children from area theater camps attended workshops in costumes, puppetry, dance, etc; and question-and-answer sessions at the Eubie Blake National Museum and Cultural Center and the Paquin School, some of whose students attended the show with their children.

There were also four benefit concerts. These included a July benefit for the Ward 8 Tennis Council in Washington, held at that city's Shiloh Baptist Church; an August benefit for the Center for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development, held at Center Stage; and two August programs titled Pride & Praise: A Gospel Musical Celebration, held at Coppin State University.

Along with Lion King company members, the Pride & Praise concerts featured the choirs of Coppin, Morgan State University and the New Psalmist Baptist Church and dancers from Coppin. Among the largest benefits that this touring company has participated in, the Pride & Praise performances raised more than $25,000, which was divided among the colleges that participated and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, The Lion King's partner for most of its benefits.

Lee, a Washington native, said one reason the company did so many benefits here was because "so many of us in the cast and crew are from this area. We saw the need and we also had the desire to give something back."

In addition, after five performances last week, the cast collected $30,537 from the audience for the American Red Cross' Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. Lee expects similar efforts during The Lion King's next engagement - five-plus weeks in Birmingham, Ala.

At a company meeting before the show left Baltimore, she said the cast and crew were told they could expect to encounter people who have been directly affected by the hurricane. "I'm hoping we will be able to reach out," she said.

Lion King by the numbers

Ticket sales: $15,220,861

Attendance: 229,511

Number of performances at the Hippodrome: 110 (June 2- Sept. 4)

Next stop: Birmingham, Ala. (Sept. 9-Oct. 16)

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