Does a good review from the NY Times guarantee a longer run?

A few months ago, I started pulling together some data on this very question.  I’m glad I stopped.

Because Lan Ma Nygren of Rider University and Jeffrey S. Simonoff from NYU did similar research and they did it a whole lot better.

You can download the report here, which is entitled:  Bright Lights, Big Dreams – A Case Study of Factors Relating to the Success of Broadway Shows.  

But break out your geek glasses, because it’s a serious statistician’s look at our biz (how rare, and how awesome!).  It includes phrases like “linear regression model” and “Kaplan-Meier estimator of the survival function” and “The Daily News.”

You have to read the report to get their full analysis of the factors that contribute to a hit (you’ll be impressed by how many you know already), but I will leave you with this quote from page 8:

On the other hand, reviews in the Times are not at all related to show longevity.  The essence seems to be that while a review once had a strong effect on the success of a show, that is no longer the case because of the way that the audience for and marketing of Broadway shows has changed in the last 20 years.


  • Kevin says:

    Very cool stuff – I’ve only started to skim the report, but I look forward to reading it later this evening. The data is VERY old, though, so it’s hard to draw too many conclusions about today’s theater climate based on the 1999 theater season (Jekyll & Hyde?). But it’s too bad I didn’t see this a few months ago – it would have been a lot of fun to try to update this as an independent study for my MBA.

  • DHicton says:

    It’s still pretty nice to have a good notice in the Times, though.

  • Richard says:

    I suppose I should read the full study before I shoot my mouth off, but…
    My gut is pretty unmoveable on this: of course you don’t need the Times’ review for a blockbuster, happy musical.
    And, maybe–just maybe–you can get away without it if you have a hysterical, old-fashioned raise the roof comedy that’s perfectly executed and really funny. (How many of those actually get mounted anymore?)
    But for your typical straight dramatic play? Come on! I don’t care what kind of word of mouth you have and what kind of marketing tricks you have up your sleeve. If you hope to recoup, you have to have the Times’ review if the show is on Broadway.
    Maybe some dramatic musicals that are darker rather than comedic can get along without the Times, but I wouldn’t want to count on it. “Next to Normal” got a pretty decent Times review, thank goodness for it. Otherwise, with subject matter like that? And music that no one seems to be singing as they commute to work? You’d need better luck than a four-leaf clover can impart.

  • Bev says:

    My friends opened “The Big Voice: God or Merman” and got a review in the Times that read like a love letter. I’ve never seen such a great review for a little show. Ditto every reviewer in New York. Not a bad review in the bunch and most of them raves. But it didn’t translate to box office draw and the show closed in about six months.

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