In Overture Center’s early years, few could have predicted that a cooking show would top a season best-seller list.
Yet Alton Brown, the mad scientist of the Food Network, bested even crooner Tony Bennett and the comedy team of Steve Martin and Martin Short to become one of the best-selling nights of Overture’s 2016-17 season for his show, "Eat Your Science."
“I would never have been able to say 10 years ago that a cooking show would sell out 2,200 seats,” said Lex Poppens, Overture’s vice president of marketing and communications.
“I just would not have had any point of reference for that. But it does.”
After Overture Center closed its Broadway season with “Beautiful” on June 18, director of ticketing Jess Schuknecht ran a year’s worth of numbers.
He analyzed paid tickets, not including removed seats or comps for special guests, tour VIPs, promotions or press that would otherwise push several of the top shows to 100 percent of capacity.
Louis C.K., a comedian with a flair for the awkwardly uncomfortable, topped the list in Overture Hall, averaging 2,238 seats sold per show on Oct. 12 and Oct. 13. That’s 99 percent of capacity.
“I was absolutely fascinated with the on-sale for Louis C.K.,” Poppens said. “There were very strict guidelines for putting it up for sale, but it went clean, two in a row.
“I can’t recall anything as strict as that, other than maybe Jerry Seinfeld when he first came out on tour.”
Schuknecht ran the numbers for Overture’s own series, not including resident organizations like the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Ballet or Madison Opera.
Among those, the top selling 2016-17 shows in Overture Hall by the numbers were:
Louis C.K. – average 2,238 per show (99 percent)
Alton Brown – 2,211 (98 percent)
Tony Bennett – 2,197 (97 percent)
Steve Martin and Martin Short – 2,171 (96 percent)
Weird Al Yankovic – 2,143 (95 percent)
In the Capitol Theater, kids’ shows were a major hit. They led the pack in the top five:
Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Other Treasured Stories – 1,094 (100 percent)
Elephant & Piggie's "We Are In A Play!" – 1,063 (98 percent)
National Geographic: Among Giants – 1,036 (95 percent)
PHOX – 1,209 (94 percent)
Joan Baez – 1,000 (92 percent)
Poppens was happy to see so many kids in Overture, as current audience members become future ticket buyers.
“This is one of those markets where it’s very family friendly and the building is very family friendly,” said Poppens. “The other thing that was impressive to me was the National Geographic shows. They were very well-attended this year.
“It speaks to this being a performing arts center for everything.”
Biggest hits from Broadway presented no surprise. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s “The Book of Mormon,” back for a second tour stop in as many years, sold a whopping 99.5 percent of capacity of its May run.
It didn’t have much room to grow. During “Mormon’s” first tour here in March 2015, it sold close to 98 percent of capacity.
This season, though, that perennial blockbuster “Phantom of the Opera” was right behind, selling 94 percent of a run that was twice as long, with 16 shows.
“‘Cabaret,’ I thought, would do a bit better than it did,” said Poppens, referring to the Roundabout Company staging of Kander and Ebb’s dark, provocative musical set in 1930s Berlin. “But in terms of the tour it was right in line with everybody else.”
Broadway tours in Overture Hall, by the numbers:
“Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” – 14,946 (84 percent, eight shows, 1,868 average attendance per night)
The Illusionists – 12,285 (70 percent, eight shows, 1,536 average attendance per night)
“Jersey Boys” – 13,775 (77 percent, 8 shows, 1,722 average attendance per night)
“The Phantom of the Opera” – 33,380 (94 percent, 16 shows, 2,086 average attendance per night)
“Cabaret” – 9,718 (54 percent, eight shows, 1,215 average attendance per night)
“The Book of Mormon” – 17,581 (99.5 percent, eight shows, 2,198 average attendance per night)
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” – 12,803 (72 percent, eight shows, 1,600 average attendance per night)
Schuknecht reported that Broadway ticket sales were fairly solid, with 81 percent of capacity sold. Overture’s average since 2010 is about 80 percent.
By comparison, “Lion King” and “Wicked” pushed the 2015-16 Broadway season to 89 percent, while “Once” and “Dirty Dancing” caused the previous season to top out at 74 percent.
Next season brings a mix of hits like “Rent” and “Les Miserables” and several new shows, like an adaptation of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” a Gloria and Emilio Estefan jukebox musical called “On Your Feet!” and the charming Sara Bareilles musical “Waitress.”
“It’s a very vibrant performing arts market,” Poppens said. “It’s not just our shows that fill the building. There’s always something going on here.”