The incredible shrinking cast size.

A few of you may be in a statistic induced coma by now ever since I started my numbers craze last week.

But I’ve got a-number one.  (Get it?  Ok, ok, I’ll take that off the set list for my Last Comic Standing audition.)

Today we’re talking about cast size.  Just how many pairs of chorus girl legs were kicking in the old days, and just how many are kicking now?

In this analysis, I looked at the percentage of new musicals in each decade with casts over 30 (seemed like a good line between average and BIG).

  • In the 1950s, 69% of all new musicals opening on Broadway had cast sizes greater than 30.
  • In the 1960s, 67% had cast sizes greater than 30.
  • In the 1970s, 31% (!)
  • In the 1980s, 24%
  • In the 1990s, 38%
  • In the 2000s, 27%

Over the last 30 years, we stabilized a bit after that precipitous decline in the 70s (what the heck happened there? – that’s a subject for another blog).

Costs have obviously played a big factor in this cast-size shrinkage, but I’d also argue that smaller musicals (Next to Normals) are more likely to be done in modern times than they were in the Golden Age of musicals, which might play a small part in the decline.

But for those of you out there that think that the only way to succeed is to prevent your authors from adding more people to the stage, remember this stat:

36 of the 64 Best Musical Tony Award winners have had casts greater than 30.

That’s 56%.

Writers, you can thank me for that stat later.


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  • Jake says:

    I appreciate what you’re doing here, Ken, but I’d love you to dig a little deeper.
    A few further questions:
    -Could we get an “average size” for each decade or even each year? The inflection point of that chart would be interesting.
    -Of the 36 “>30 people” Best Musical winners, how many happened post-decline as opposed to pre-? Were there any small musical winners in the big cast era?
    -I assume you didn’t lump revivals in here? I’d love to see those included to get a sense of whether or not those shows were hogging up all the big casts?
    -Any way we could break it out by number of performances? Off the top of my head, I think the the longest-runners all probably fall into your >30 camp.
    I know you just started another blog, but you could fill a whole new one with just stats! You should check out Nate Silver on NYTimes, he’s a pretty brilliant statistician and got me hooked.

  • Christine says:

    Next to Normal, in my opinion, is one of the best musicals ever, despite their very small cast!

  • Mark says:

    Tell me about it! I submitted a play to a theater recently and they rejected it (unread), telling me it required too many actors: Six.

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    This issue has been on my mind lately. I am writing a musical based on a novel, and it has become very clear to me that it needs a chorus. Could it possibly be done without one? Maybe. But it wouldn’t be the show it should be. I have decided to just write it correctly, and hope it will be good enough to justify the financial risk.

  • Marilyn O'Connell says:

    Have to remember too that with the earlier, larger casts, there was usually a dancing chorus AND a singing chorus. In the past 10 years – the dancing chorus and singing chorus are one – all triple threats – so there is no need for a large cast since all the chorus members sing and dance and act. No need for 2 or 3 times the cast.

  • Hugh Murphy says:

    It’s happening everywhere. My play, The Grandeur of Delusions, a two hander, is the only play I’ve seen [obviously biased]which has a valid reason for using actors in multiple roles.
    The notion that smaller is best – is not always BEST, for actors, the house, returns or the production as it can be seen as a cheapskate production and overall detrimental to Theatre.
    Six is a good number for a play as it can explore character in some depth and allows the audience to identify – either for and against the characters as they change positions from whence they started out.
    I sincerely hope you find a producer.
    Best Regards
    Hugh Murphy

  • RLewis says:

    The original Fantastiks had a big chorus, but when they started it up on Sullivan St. they nix’ed the chorus. So, there are shows that can be done either way – not a big deal.

  • kim says:

    Ken, I love all your statistics. I bet you could (or probably already are) an AMAZING Line Producer. I’m still figuring out how to use Excel. (yes, you can laugh) 🙂

  • As a numbers geek, this post made my day! Thanks for working out the statistics, and especially adding in the last one regarding 56% of Tony winners had large casts.
    I’ve lamented the shrinking casts in the shows I hire for, but I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the smaller casts on the Big White Way.

  • David says:

    Hey Ken,

    This is a response to an old blog post, but I was wondering if you’d run stats on off-broadway cast sizes. It sounds like conventional wisdom holds that 5 people is the limit – likely because of budget. Are there any exceptions to that rule (Bat Boy maybe?) and how did the producers get around it?


  • Tomi says:

    Here you are Ken, and I have big casts in my musicals because they were Created to give every student a chance.

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