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How Broadway’s Big Hollywood Gambles Are Paying Off

Bette Midler's "I'll Eat You Last," opening Wednesday, has been selling strongly in previews

Bette Midler has joined Tom Hanks as a certified Broadway smash.

Her one-woman show about super-agent Sue Mengers, "I'll Eat You Last," officially opens Wednesday, but sales during previews have been strong. In fact, many of the New York theater season's big ticket debuts appear to have lived up to the hype, at least in terms of box office returns.

Hanks' "Lucky Guy," a love letter to tabloid newspaper culture penned by the late Nora Ephron, grossed an astonishing $1.4 million last week and played to sell-out crowds. The critical reception has been mixed for the show, with some reviewers faulting it for being overly episodic. Yet those kind of numbers are rarely achieved by a straight dramatic play. The only shows to out-gross "Lucky Guy" during that time span were three big-budget, musical smashes, "Wicked," "The Lion King" and "The Book of Mormon."

Also read: Tom Hanks, Jake Gyllenhaal Up for Drama League Honors

Reviewers won't weigh in on "I'll Eat You Last" until Wednesday, but so far it has been well received. Last week, "I’ll Eat You Last" set a new record for the Booth Theater, where it is being shown, grossing $686,031 for seven performances, according to data from the Broadway League. The previous record was held by "Other Desert Cities," which earned  $586,512 during the week of Dec. 12, 2011. Like Hanks, Midler's show played to capacity crowds. The Booth is substantially smaller, offering roughly 4,000 fewer seats than the Broadhurst Theater, where "Lucky Guy" is playing,

Also read: Tom Hanks, Nora Ephron on Broadway: What the Critics Think of 'Lucky Guy'

Also, demonstrating box office prowess are a pair of high-profile musicals, "Matilda" and "Motown." After opening two weeks ago to glowing reviews comparing it to "The Lion King," "Matilda" netted gross $1.13 million. That's its biggest gross since the U.K. show kicked off preview performances this month.

Likewise, "Motown" returned to the million dollar club after a week that saw grosses dip below seven digits. A "Motown" publicist told TheWrap that the show had given away a number of press tickets the prior week.

Not everything on Broadway is clicking. Casting "Game of Thrones" dragon lady Emilia Clarke as Holly Golightly couldn't save "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It closed Monday after 17 preview and 38 regular performances, the victim of lackluster reviews.

Also read: Shia LaBeouf Knocks Alec Baldwin on Twitter as 'Orphans' Feud Heats Up Again

Likewise, "Orphans" has not been able to translate intense tabloid coverage into monster ticket sales. The revival of Lyle Kessler’s play became a staple of gossip pages after original star Shia LaBeouf abruptly quit the play over reported clashes with co-star Alec Baldwin.

When play opened last week, critics were lukewarm in their assessment of the show and new star Ben Foster. Ticket sales have been respectable, but not sizzling. "Orphans" grossed $522,036 last week, according to the Broadway League. Unlike "Lucky Guy" or "I'll Eat You Last," seats were left unsold.

Baldwin, it appears, is no match for Tom and Bette.