Broadway’s The Lightning Thief has some of the worst ticket sales in recent Broadway history, so investors may not be willing to keep funding it


Broadway’s ‘The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical opened in previews at the Longacre Theatre on September 20th, 2019 and since then the show has had trouble developing a following. The Lightning Thief was all set to smash the box office ticket sales projections, riding high on its brand and past literary success, but unfortunately it did not pan out as well as expected. On the show’s opening night on October 16th, 2019 the poor critical reviews came out and the writing was on the wall - this show was going to be a tough sell. The Lightning Thief feels like it is channeling the wizardry of Harry Potter, the Asperger's of The Curious Incident of the Dog In Nighttime and the Greek mythology of Hadestown. It is these traits alone that should guarantee its overall Broadway success, but somehow it has failed to do so. Despite the story being based off the best-selling young adult series of the same name, this show failed to get the expected devoted following from the youth market. The show has ultimately become one of the worst-selling Broadway musicals in the last five years and is now relying on financial life-support, at the pleasure of its disappointed investors. Despite its pedigree as an engaging subject matter, albeit for a younger audience, this show finds itself in the precarious position of a pre-holiday slump, that may not turn around before producers pull the plug.

How The Show Came To Broadway

The book, The Lightning Thief, is the first young-adult novel written by Rick Riordan in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. The original book series was written by Riordan in 2005 and has sold over 15 million copies in the U.S. alone, so it is already known that dedicated fans abound. It may be true that the original book fans who grew up on the material, now reject the subject matter as being too childish, but that is at odds with similar shows like Harry Potter on Broadway. The Harry Potter show does have one thing over The Lightning Thief - Harry Potter is a continuation from the series of the J.K. Rowling books, not a retelling like The Lightning Thief. In other mediums, The Lightning Thief movie, which premiered in 2010, saw amazing ticket revenues of over $226 million in box office returns. This number still grows daily as the movie is launched in new markets desperate for young adult content.

The Lightning Thief Broadway Wraps

In the Broadway musical’s first six weeks, the show grossed slightly more than $1.3 million in total ticket sales. In this time, the show had an average of 539 people in attendance per performance, which is far below the Longacre Theatre’s maximum capacity of 1,095 people. The attendance is less than 50% of the potential butts-in-seats. Broadway musicals typically need to have maintain gross revenues at over $1 million a week, in order to turn a profit for their investors. The Lightning Thief has not been able to raise that number since its inception, over six weeks, which means that investors may be losing money at an unholy rate.

Estimate Of Losses and Missed Sales

Based on the shows weekly gross ticket sales and the standard $1 million profitability low-tide mark, our estimate is that the show is losing a minimum of $775,000 per week. This takes into account for the cost of renting the theatre, paying the actors as well as paying the show staff. The weekly loss is presumably much higher than our estimate, when taking into account the price to the rights of the show, its massive marketing budget (that is now gone) and various other Broadway expenses. Typically, the top 14-15 Broadway shows meet the break-even sales mark about $1 million. The Lighting Thief has not yet broken past position 30 in the chart, even on its opening week, so the ticket sales forecast for the show is poor.

The Lightning Thief Gross Ticket Sales Chart
The Lightning Thief's First Six Weeks Gross Ticket Sales Chart

What is the Problem?

The show had little lead-in before it opened as it was a last-minute choice at the Longacre Theatre. This meant that little interest had been developed before the show opened and then the Broadway marketing companies had to double-up their efforts to make up for the lost time. The shows marketing partners bombarded the public with many advertisements on multiple platforms and things looked desperate. Fans have reported seeing many television, radio and social media advertisements for The Lightning Thief. Despite all of these marketing efforts, their attempts failed to connect to the correct demographic and have not been turning into any sales dollars. Broadway productions will usually put together a well thought out plan on how to advertise on each of these platforms but because this was a rush job, the plans were clearly poorly crafted.

It also does not help the show that it received such poor critical reviews. Frank Scheck from the ‘Hollywood Reporter’ called the show a “tacky bargain-basement production” and that “Any parents who shell out the money for these tickets, seriously need to reevaluate their financial priorities.” Jesse Green from The New York Times Review said “It is both overblown and underproduced, filled with sentiments that it can not support and effects it did not pull off”. While city people often ignore critical Broadway show reviews, there is still too much competition in the market with other similar shows for this show to succeed. Out-of-towners do read the bad reviews and they often vote with their feet in response. The Harry Potter production, Mean Girls and Dear Evan Hanson are all shows that target the same tween-aged demographic that The Lightning Thief is after and has failed to catch.

Comparison to Other Shows and Their Ticket Sales

The most obvious show to compare The Lightning Thief to would be the two part Harry Potter Broadway show that is performing at the Lyric Theatre. Both of them are based off best-selling young-adult book series and follow a chosen teen aged boy, who has parent problems. They both also happen to have magical powers. In the first six weeks of The Lightning Thief, the show grossed an average of $225,377 per week. In that same time period, Harry Potter had and average gross ticket sales of $1,070,032 per week. With Harry Potter being a two part show, it would be fair to compare half of their sales with The Lightning Thief, because Harry Potter audience members are forced to buy two tickets for that show, for the full experience. With this in mind, Harry Potter is only making 2.37 times more than The Lightning Thief is selling per week. This ratio makes more sense when taking into consideration that the Lyric Theatre has nearly double the capacity of the Longacre Theatre. The 2.37 to 1 ratio that the shows have is also much better than the 10 to 1 ratio that the first Harry Potter book had when compared to the first Lightning Thief book in each series.

Should The Lightning Thief Stay on Broadway Despite Poor Ticket Sales?

If The Lightning Thief production can hang on well into the 2019/2020 Holiday season, it could recoup some of its investment. When a show is hemorrhaging money like this, it is often financially better to just close the show. It is not worth performing emergency surgery on a terminal patient, even if it does have some godly lightning in its pocket that you can steal.