The State of Broadway Part II: Plays

Welcome back to the land of graphs, charts, and excel sheets! In honor of the 72nd Annual Tony Awards®, we’re diving deep into the last 20 years of performances to see what Broadway shows have stood out from the rest. If you missed our primer on the subject, you can check that out here.
This week, we’re taking a look at three different plays that have stood out, statistically, and what that might mean for Broadway artistically.

The Curious Incident of 799 Performances
While most plays on Broadway tend to run for approximately 100 performances, one recent production made for a Curious exception. With a run nearly 8 times the average of other plays, the London-born transfer The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime reminds us of a certain Cursed Child that happens to be breaking box office records today.
Both productions were adapted from young adult novels, creating an immediate potential audience out of their literary fan bases, while successfully transporting audiences to a completely new world. The central characters of Cursed Child and Curious Incident may not be the most immediately relatable, but both shows were able to successfully connect with audience members through a mixture of spectacular, immersive visuals and a universal message.

The Play That Goes Wrong and Keeps Going
Plays typically have one-third of the lifespan on the Great White Way compared to their musical counterparts, but ironically the only play currently running on Broadway that opened prior to this season is the one that keeps going wrong! Although it recently set an August closing date, The Play That Goes Wrong will have played nearly 600 performances by then– far above the current average. This longevity may be due, in part, because the show tapped into a timelessness and accessibility that invites any audience member into the joke, and welcomes them to return for a return viewing for the same reason we rewatch America’s Funniest Home Videos. Consider it the spiritual successor to Noises Off, another behind-the-curtain peek at an impeccably-timed theatrical meltdown, which ran for 553 performances over 18 months.

1084 Seats, 1 Star Vehicle, and 0 Performances
After exactly one week of previews in 2003, the Farrah Fawcett-helmed Bobbi Boland closed in the Cort Theatre before it ever technically started – becoming the only show in the last twenty years to do so in the process. However, before becoming the shortest-running Broadway show in two decades, Bobbi enjoyed a successful Off-Broadway run in 2001. Much of the postmortem discussion of the play’s cancellation centered around the different demands of a 99-seat house versus the 1000+ seats in the Cort Theatre; this lends the idea that some productions’ aesthetics are more suited for the intimate, often unnerving, closeness of a smaller space. This isn’t to say that the intimacy from plays cannot be communicated from a large house when transferred, but the staging must be thoughtfully shifted when the audience is multiplied by ten.

Broadway’s repertoire of plays continues to be filled with thoughtful, current, engaging, silly, cutting, witty, and ridiculous art. While running for an average of one-third of the performances compared to musicals, their impact is felt strongly on the theatre community. From London-transfers to Off-Broadway darlings, the theatre scene is made better as a whole by shows that set out to challenge norms, make a statement, or make an audience laugh, whether they succeed or not. To quote Farrah Fawcett in an interview with The New York Times shortly after Bobbi Boland closed:

“But I thought, what’s the worst that can happen? The play gets bad reviews and closes. It’s not like you’re shot, you’re dying. Life is sweetened by risk. Because it takes a lot of guts to get out there in front of all those eyes.”