The State of Broadway Part IV: Musicals

Welcome back to the final installment of our deep dive into the last two decades of Broadway history. Our spotlight turns at last to the industry behemoth, the Broadway musical. While the average number of performances has trended downwards over 20 years, the individual results have varied greatly. 30 shows that opened since 1998 have played for over 1,000 performances, while 96 have played for less than 100. Let’s take a closer look at three of these Broadway Musical Outliers.

Jekyll & Hyde vs Jekyll & Hyde
After wrapping up its original run of over 1,500 performances in 2001, Jekyll & Hyde returned to the stage for a 2013 limited engagement that closed early enough to become the shortest-running musical revival of the last 20 years, with 30 performances.

While this revival was not built for a similar long-term run, its extra-early demise may be a direct result of its predecessor’s success. Between a near four-year run, three different cast albums, and a “Direct from Broadway” DVD, it’s possible that its rabid fanbase could have been saturated with other material from the show, which otherwise could have carried the revival through its planned engagement.

Now compare that to Chicago, which still reigns as the longest-running revival after returning from a nine-year absence. Originally returning as an Encores! concert, this production completely reinvented itself upon re-opening and continues to rotate out star turns, each with a unique spin on the now-iconic roles.

Wicked Upset
On Halloween in 2003, The New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote that “Wicked does not, alas, speak hopefully for the future of the Broadway musical.” 15 years and over 6,000 performances later, audiences seem to have disagreed.

As the longest-running musical to have premiered within the last 20 years, Wicked continues to maintain a presence in the top-grossing musicals each week while simultaneously inspiring young musical theatre fans to belt out “Defying Gravity” in the car, shower, or freshman-year dorm room. While the show itself received lukewarm reviews upon opening, its leading ladies were further catapulted into musical theatre stardom as they took on two strong female characters in a show that ends with the iconic BFF duet sung at hundreds of high school graduation ceremonies across the country. In fact, in a secondary review released by The New York Times in 2014, the critic Charles Isherwood noted that the fervor the show created among young fans, and young women especially, was ahead of its time back in 2003 with its focus on two powerful, flawed women that create their own destiny.

That direct appeal to a younger demographic has held strong for nearly 15 years, buoying the show to a record-setting high from the last 20 years of productions and proving that the power of female-driven epics has financial and cultural staying power.

In a separate statistical anecdote, the same season that Idina Menzel lent her legendary voice to “Defying Gravity,” a play called Frozen opened at Circle in the Square – not the same as the hit Disney film (and now Broadway musical), but what are the odds?

The Book (or, Score) of Lopez
As Robert Lopez this year became the first person ever to earn a “double EGOT,” we would be remiss if we didn’t mention his full Broadway batting average.

Making his 2003 Broadway debut with Avenue Q, Lopez won the first “T” of his EGOT (beating out a little show called Wicked for “Best Musical”) as the production went on to run for over 2,500 performances at the John Golden Theatre, before relocating (and still running) at New World Stages (Happy 15th Birthday!!).

The Book of Mormon became his next sensation, earning Lopez a second Tony Award®, and which will soon celebrate its 3,000th performance at the Eugene O’Neill. In fact, with two hits in 15 years, Robert Lopez has yet to have a closing night on Broadway.

With this Frozen nominated for several Tony Awards®, it seems like Lopez’s hot streak is nowhere near cooling down.

No magic formula can guarantee a show’s longevity, but a look back at the hits and misses of past seasons demonstrates the need for productions to reel audiences in with the familiar and then dazzle them with something new. Theatre can only move forward as art when risks are taken, so we celebrate every show—from top to flop—that tries something new, exciting, and fresh. Even though there’s no predicting what these graphs will look like in another 20 years, we can’t wait to see what the future of Broadway holds.