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Miss Saigon posts £4m first day sales – but is it a record?

Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Eliza Power
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Miss Saigon is a big show. So, it seems appropriate that the musical’s revival – due to open at the Prince Edward Theatre next year – should have posted the biggest ever opening day sales in West End and Broadway history.

But has it, really? I think the only answer anyone can give with any real certainty is ‘probably’.

One thing we can say with certainty is that the figure being reported by Cameron Mackintosh is higher than the the figure reported by the last show to claim this particular West End and Broadway record. Mackintosh is saying that Miss Saigon took £4,402,371 in its first day of sales, while The Book of Mormon reported that it took a little over £2 million the day after it opened.

But, there are a few problems with this.

The principal one is that to have a record, you have to have records. In sports, when we talk about someone breaking the world record, we can be pretty sure that the time/number of points they have is better than anyone else (ever) because someone (and someone independent) has been keeping and comparing those results over the years, so we have other records to compare the latest record to.

The same cannot be said of theatre. And certainly not of West End theatre. While Broadway publishes weekly grosses (a show’s total weekly take at the box office), the West End does not. Producers tend to be private companies and there is no compunction on them to report their results in this way. So, they don’t.

This means that only the shows that choose to release their results do and – most importantly – if they do choose to report them publicly, they can report them in any way they choose.

So, for example, when Cameron Mackintosh opened Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2009, he reported that the show had broken box office records for the highest advance.

But what does this actually mean? Again – to return to my sports comparison – it’s not as if everyone is running over the same distance. Some shows go on sale earlier than others, so could have longer to build up a bigger advance. It’s like someone finishing a marathon ahead of everyone else because they started it the day before.

[pullquote]I suspect that the £4 million figure is probably a record, if only because any producer who had taken that much at the box office before would have probably told the world about it[/pullquote]

Likewise, with Miss Saigon’s £4 million figure, this is undoubtedly hugely impressive and it may well be (in fact, probably is) a record, but unless everyone else is measuring their first day sales and reporting them, then it’s impossible to know for sure. And, actually, which is more meaningful – first day sales, or total advance, or perhaps some other figure entirely? For example, Les Miserables‘ first-day sales weren’t announced, but I’m sure they would have been rather low in comparison to Miss Saigon. Yet, it has gone on to become one of the most commercially successful pieces of live entertainment ever.

And that’s not even getting into the idea of adjusting the records for inflation or fluctuating exchange rates between Broadway and the West End…

That said, I suspect that the £4 million figure is probably a record, if only because any producer who had taken that much at the box office before would have probably told the world about it.

But can we be sure? No. Not until there’s an accepted (and preferably independent) method of measuring these things.

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