The longest running plays don’t get revived.

We often talk about the longest runnings show in Broadway history . . . Phantom, Cats, Les Miz, Chicago . . . but rarely do we talk about the longest running plays.

Why?

Because you wouldn’t recognize ’em if we did.

Here are 10 longest running plays in Broadway history, along with whether or not it has been revived, and the year the last or original production closed.  Make sense?

Here we go.

  1. Life with Father, No revivals, 1947
  2. Tobacco Road, 3 revivals, 1950
  3. Abbie’s Irish Rose, 3 revivals 1954
  4. Gemini, No revivals, 1981
  5. Deathtrap, No revivals, 1982
  6. Harvey, No revivals, 1949
  7. Born Yesterday, 2 revivals, 2011
  8. Mary, Mary, No revivals, 1964
  9. The Voice of the Little Turtle, No revivals, 1948
  10. Barefoot in the Park, 1 revival, 2006

Interesting, no?  The three longest running plays of all time haven’t been on Broadway in well over fifty years . . . and I don’t see any one of them coming back anytime soon.  The only two revivals that were produced in this century failed.  And the lack of revivals in the rest suggests a trend contrary to what we’re seeing with musicals . . . which is when one works, we’ll revive it sooner rather than later (See La Cage, Ragtime, A Chorus Line, etc.)

What’s the reason?

Is it because it’s harder to blow the dust off these plays, because dialogue can’t be updated as easily as orchestrations and arrangements?  Is it because the play going audience is shrinking, and the musical audience is growing?    Is it because plays need stars to get on these days and no stars want to do these plays?

It would seem to me that this would be the list Producers would run to to look for revivals . . . yet these titles aren’t being touched.

Plays are different animals than musicals, and what makes a title in one genre successful doesn’t run parallel with what makes a title in the other genre successful.

That would be too easy.

When looking for a successful play, revival or not, it’s imperative that it resonate with the drama of the day . . . otherwise you’ll be on the 10 shortest running show list.

 

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Comments
  • Darryl Reilly says:

    Harvey was revived in 1970 with James Stewart, Helen Hayes AND Jesse White.

  • Howard Sherman says:

    Maybe they’re not revived because people don’t remember their titles correctly: it’s ABIE’S IRISH ROSE and THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE.
    Incidentally, Roundabout revived TURTLE in 1985 Off-Broadway: this may explain why it hasn’t been back since: http://www.nytimes.com/1985/06/05/theater/stage-voice-of-turtle-in-revival-at-roundabout.html
    Many people have expressed interest in reviving HARVEY, but there’s a rights issue with the show, I believe, in connection with an oft-promised new film version which precludes a Broadway production. DEATHTRAP, of course, was just done in the West End with Simon Russell Beale and Jon Groff.

  • Howard Sherman says:

    Another note regarding long-running plays and musicals in comparison. When you look at long-running musicals that have been closed for at least 10 years, you reveal big hit musicals that haven’t been revived either, such as PIPPIN, THE MAGIC SHOW, DACIN, THE WIZ, CRAZY FOR YOU and BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS.

  • doug says:

    Is another possible reason that there are far more new plays written than musicals, therefore there’s a larger desire (and it’s easier) to do a “fresh” new play rather than revive or “dust off” an older one?

  • Dorothy says:

    Some of those plays are absolute staples of community theaters. In looking for a classic for our theater a couple of seasons ago, I read “Mary,Mary” and it was in serious need of updating even though we labeled it as “cute.” “Cute” probably doesn’t cut it for NYC revivals. I’m an elderly dramaturg and “Life with Father” and “Abie’s Irish Rose” were huge hits and toured when I was young! I remember them fondly, but I bet they’ve got serious plot and dialogue problems for today’s market.

  • Margie Goldsmith says:

    Ken,
    You nailed it when you said, “It’s imperative that it resonate with the drama of the day.” I don’t think it’s so much the dialogue (after all, we’re not speaking Old English here), as it is the history and culture of the year (or epoch) the play takes place. Our customs and culture and history change so rapidly that today’s audience doesn’t care about events that happened in the 40s or 50s or even 70s — events that probably even give the play its subtext.
    my two cents

  • CJ says:

    Deathtrap was recently revived in London. It was only ever set to run for a limited season but it did do well (maybe because of the casting – Jonathan Groff in one of the leads). I do think that this may be less of a problem in London, but I may be wrong.

  • Hugh Murphy says:

    Never mind revivals what about new productions and new writing. You’ve ignored ONE BIG ONION which is an Irish On The Waterfront. While it can be understood that the employers and the corrupt trade union involved don’t want to see their corruption exposed – their influence the Arts in Dublin have bowed to this corruption.
    A very successful reading of One Big Onion was held in Dublin but the corrupt trade union leaned on the play company to discourage a full production. Unbeknown to me the founder of the company was the corrupt union’s rep in the Arts.
    After being jailed in the US for union agitation during the Easter Rising, when he returned home Big Jim Larkin [who founded the union] was expelled for being too militant. One Big Onion actually celebrates the working man of a bygone age where hard physical work was the only way to earn a living. It would be a massive hit on Broadway.
    Hugh Murphy

  • kim says:

    Maybe it has something to do with our attention deficit society? When things are flashy and go “boom”, is that easier to digest? I don’t know. Personally, I love a good play (or musical) that I can sink my claws into and come out on the other side changed.

  • Douglas Hicton says:

    It’s because musicals don’t date as badly as straight plays. There’s always some music, and usually some familiar song, for the audience to latch onto. Most often, it’s the books — the “play” part — that require updating. Old musicals that have spawned no popular hit songs generally don’t get revived much either, unless they’re Sondheim shows — but they’re a different animal from most musicals.
    As for “updated” orchestrations and arrangements, that’s just code for “reduced” orchestrations. These reorchestrations are artistically unnecessary, frequently anachronistic, and generally tinny and thin-sounding. I expect to hear the original, lush orchestrations on Broadway, especially at $100+ per ticket. I don’t want The King and I, for instance, done by a nine-piece pit band. That’s just awful.

  • Douglas Hicton says:

    Oh, and also, songs are a lot easier to listen to over and over than dialogue is. If you have any comedy CDs, no matter how funny they are, I’ll bet anything you don’t listen to them as often as you listen to your music CDs. It’s just the nature of music to be repeatable. This could be why Goddard Lieberson tended to like removing much of the introductory and internal dialogue from songs in the cast albums he produced.

  • dvlokken says:

    Good post. I especially liked it when you mentioned plays are different animals than musicals and what makes a title in one genre successful doesn’t run parallel with what makes a title in the other genre successful. That is so true. Thanks for the follow up.

  • web hoisting says:

    If you have any comedy CDs, no matter how funny they are, I’ll bet anything you don’t listen to them as often as you listen to your music CD’s..keep sending like this good informational..its really nice to read

  • web hoisting says:

    . I especially liked it when you mentioned plays are different animals than musicals and what makes a title in one genre successful doesn’t run parallel with what makes a title in the other genre successful… I remember them fondly, but I bet they’ve got serious plot and dialogue problems for today’s market.

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