What the Tuck is taking up all our Broadway Theaters?

Last week, the Producers of the upcoming (and from what I hear, wonderful) new musical Tuck Everlasting, announced they were postponing its pre-Broadway Boston tryout due to the lack of an available Broadway houses this fall.

And unlike some other shows that have used that excuse, these Producers actually meant it.

I’ve always said that finding a Broadway theater for your show is like landing a plane at JFK on Thanksgiving Weekend.  You’re probably going to have to circle for awhile until you find the right runway.

Well, Tuck couldn’t even take off.

It has always been hard to find that Broadway home . . . but it is true . . . it’s getting harder.


Well, in modern times, when a show is a hit, it runs a Tuck of a lot longer.  Shows from the 1950s-70s didn’t run for uh . . . DECADES!  And now they do.

Phantom, Mamma Mia (which just announced a move to another theater to stretch out its run), Lion King, Wicked . . . where are these shows going?  Hmmm?  That’s why I postulated in this blog that we’d never have another “dark era” on Broadway again (although sometimes I think we could use a market correction, just like the stock market needs to blow off a little steam every once in a while).

But let’s get back to that availability issue to determine just how hard it is, shall we?

If you’re a Producer with a brand new show looking for a house for your new musical, you have 40 to choose from, right?

Well, there are 40 Broadway houses, yes, so let’s start with that.


Subtract the Disney house, because . . . come on, they’re always going to have something.


Now subtract the 5 non-profit houses and that leaves you with . . .


Now subtract 16 for the long running musicals that aren’t going anywhere in the next 2-5 years.  (Already this season we’ve added 4-5 to that list that are going to be holed up for quite awhile (including my Kinky Boots!)


Only 18 remain!  Less than 50% of the Broadway theaters on the market are actually in play.

And hold on, I’m not done with my math just yet.

From those 18, subtract 4 for the shows that have been announced for the coming year, taking those houses off the market as well.

And we’re down to 14!

Now, insiders tell me that 3 more of those are out of the running for the ’13-14 season with handshake deals for yet-to-be-announced but firm bookings by powerhouse producers.

And just like that, we’ve got eleven left.  Just 11.

Look, something always falls out, or unexpectedly closes, right?  So for margin of error’s sake, let’s add back 1 to get to an even dozen.

A dozen.  That’s right, if you’re a Producer of a brand new musical looking for a house in the coming year or so, you’ve got just a dozen to choose from.

Certainly you can find one that works for you out of that carton of eggs, right?

Well hold your press releases, Producer, because here’s the biggest rub of them all.

Those twelve remaining houses have an average capacity of . . . 1083.67.

And this is the Tuckin’ problem.

The theaters that remain are mostly play houses . . . and they lack the capacity to be able to support larger musicals at today’s cost of producing a musical (unless prices go up dramatically).

What does this mean?

Well, we’re just about maxed out on big musicals . . . there just isn’t a lot of room for them right now.  Give us another season or two like this one and even the couple of remaining big barns will be eaten up as well.  And then what?

And that’s my biggest takeaway from this mathematical exercise.

Despite the fact that Broadway audiences love big shows, If I was developing a musical right now (oh wait, I’m developing 3), I’d focus on small to medium shows; shows that I know can fit in a smaller house.  And I’d start telling my creative team now . . . “we’re most likely going to have to fit in a smaller box than we would have thought, so let’s make sure we start thinking creatively on how to handle that now, so we’re not circling the airport forever.”

Otherwise, you could end up be Tuckin’ homeless.


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  • We could probably use three more big houses. One apiece built by the Shuberts, the Nederlanders and the Jujamcyns.

    Ken, do you know which theater is the newest?

    And I just found this list of upcoming shows in Wikipedia:

    Always… Patsy Cline: August 2013 (theatre unknown)[58]
    Diner: Fall 2013 (theatre unknown)[59]
    Flashdance the Musical: August 2013 (theatre unknown)[60]
    If/Then: March 27, 2014 (Unknown Nederlander theatre)[61]
    Kander and Ebb’s Sing Happy: October 5, 2013 (theatre unknown)[62]
    Les Misérables: Spring 2014 (Unknown Shubert theatre)[63]
    Mamma Mia!: Late 2013 (Broadhurst Theatre)[64]
    Rocky the Musical: Winter 2014 (Winter Garden Theatre)[65]
    Betrayal: November 3, 2013 (Ethel Barrymore Theatre)[66]
    Romeo and Juliet: September 19, 2013 (Richard Rodgers Theatre)[67]
    The Snow Geese: October 24, 2013 (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre)[68]
    A Time to Kill: October 2013 (theatre unknown)[69]

  • Scott says:

    How about building a new, second Broadway in the south…like…well maybe Dallas Ft. worth. Housing is cheaper, land is cheaper and people here love Broadway shows. No snow, great airport and lots of places to shop and eat! Send the shows our way!!!! And…you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to stay in a hotel for a few nights!!!

  • Arthur Rubin’s 1991 sale of the Mark Hellinger Theatre doesn’t look so good now for the Nederlanders’ – With over 1500 seats it would have been perfect for Tuck as well as countless other shows and large scale musicals that have been stuck for a Theatre. A little bit of foresight could have changed the Broadway topography considerably.
    Shame there wasn’t a clause to buy-it-back.
    Or is there?

  • It would certainly have helped if, decades ago, public policy had been geared toward saving the theater district by saving theatres. Then we would have them (a) replaced by a hotel (the Morosco, Helen Hayes, Bijou, Astor and Victoria), (b) swallowed by a hotel (the Hudson), (c) turned into a church (the Mark Hellinger), (d) leveled for a wax museum (the Harris), (e) turned into a nightclub and multiplex entrance (the Liberty and Empire, respectively), (f) merged into a monstrosity that only Spider-Man can fill (the Apollo and Lyric), and (g) generate press releases but, so far, no restoration progress at all (the Times Square). That’s a total of THIRTEEN theaters that might have otherwise relieved the booking jam.

    Thank goodness somebody (namely me and my friends) took it upon ourselves to agitate for the theatrical salvation of the Biltmore, until MTC came along to actually do it.

  • Ed from CT says:

    Great post, Ken.
    I always suspected the number of houses actually available was in the low teens but this is even worse!
    Thank you for breaking it down, though, so we can all see the real numbers.

  • Elisa Christina Clayton says:

    How depressing! I’m with Scott, it’s time to build an alternative Broadway. I’ve always wanted to build theaters anyway. As for writing, after I finish writing my current musical, I think I’ll write a screenplay.

  • Brad Ross says:

    Great post Ken!!! Filled w great info. I’m developing my magic and illusion show and its good to hear that a smaller to medium size show is better and more versatile for today’s market. I assume the same is true with touring houses as well?

  • Sean says:

    Wow! Great post! As a House Manager of one of these historic beauties, it also amazes me that a few stay dark for so LONG (i.e.-The Longacre, The Neil Simon, the Belasco and Cort Theatres often etc). Another factor to be added to your # game is how many limited engagement shows/concerts are moving in and out (i.e.- Tyson, undisputed truth, Jekyll and Hyde, The Rascals, Barry Manilow, Elf, Christmas Story). So maybe the key is limited engagement runs with smaller productions for producer’s to make their $$$ back, and then bring it back every year.

  • Nick Bailey says:

    This is the best blog posting, or at least my favorite of the past few months. Thanks for the breakdown. Great writing.

  • Joe Shellard says:

    Great article Ken.

    I’ve repeated the analysis on London venues, and it’s amazing to see that there are over TWICE the amount of available venues in the West End compared to Broadway!

    You can see all the details on my blog – http://joeshellard.co.uk/2013/04/24/londons-ready-for-a-new-musical/

  • A Contrarian says:

    Not so long ago, Rocco Landesman declared the industry “overbuilt.” And the Shuberts — in the day of Bernie & Jerry — pushed the Marquis project, and liked the idea that a lot of older theaters would be ripped down in the process [less potential competition]. Also, a few small houses of around 500 seats were destroyed as they were deemed “uneconomical.” Well, Her Majesty’s in London was thought to be “too small for a musical” before Phantom took up residence nearly three decades ago. Hard to read the future.

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