The #1 Reason why there is a Broadway Theater crunch today. #ChartAlert

Talk to any Broadway Producer these days, and the #1 problem we’re all facing isn’t raising money, it isn’t marketing, and it isn’t even all the life-sized Elmos in Times Square (where “Tickle Me” takes on a whole different meaning).

The #1 problem facing Broadway Producers is the lack of theater availability.

Unless you’ve got a major star in your pocket, have produced a massive-sized hit in the past or can turn on a dime and slide into an unexpected opening like we did with Spring, the theater owners are most likely to tell hopeful Producers looking for a home for their show that there just ain’t any room at the inn.

The landlords themselves will tell you that this is a pretty big contrast to not too long ago when it was common to have several dark theaters throughout the year.

So what happened?  Why are we all full up?

The answer is . . . we’ve gotten too good.

We’ve gotten too good at getting our shows to run longer than they used to.  And it’s all in the charts below.

I pulled the average runs of the big four categories (New Musical, Musical Revival, New Play, Play Revival) and mapped them out for you so you can see just what is clogging up our developmental pipeline.  Ready?  Here goes.

The first is the chart of the average run of New Musicals since the 1950s . . .

new musicals

Amazing, right?  And no, you’re not seeing double, that trend line is real.

Oh wait, you actually are seeing double, because since the 1950s, we’ve DOUBLED the average run of new musicals to about 600 performances (which is just under a year and a half).

Of course, the shows responsible for this massive change are the big long runners . . . the mega hits like PhantomLion King, etc. that take up residence at a theater and show no sign of going anywhere.

(By the way, the tail off at the end of this chart is mostly due to the fact that the big hits that opened in that decade just haven’t had time to catch up to the others yet – but give them time.)

So that’s new musicals, but what about revivals of musicals?

revival musicals

This chart has a little bit more of a mountain peak trend line, mostly due to two outliers . . . Oh! Calcutta! and Chicago.  But again, trending higher for sure, which means more unavailability.

And what about revivals of plays?  Certainly the limited run, star driven trend of the last few years must have cut short the run of revivals, right?

Think again, my good friends.  Think again.

While they’ve definitely flatlined over the past couple of decades, average performance counts are still significantly higher compared to how long these types of shows used to run.

revival plays

And yeah, I’ve skipped a category.  New Plays.  Because this is the one chart that is different from all others.

Take a look.

new plays

While the average run of new Broadway plays is up since the 50s, this is the category with the least amount of gain in 60 years!  We’re talking a growth of around 20% instead of 100%.  Shocking?

And when you jam all of these categories into one graph, it looks like this.

all shows

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?  Oh look at how far we’ve come.

Broadway has been a musical business since that happy accident that created The Black Crook.  But in the last twenty to thirty years, that business has exploded, taking our grosses to new heights, and filling our theaters to the brim.

And every year it seems we add more hits than flops (just look at how many shows are still running from last season – even Finding Neverlandwhich failed to get good reviews and Tony nominations).

There’s no question that the #1 reason why we’ve got less and less theater availability is that average runs are getting longer and longer.

Let’s just hope that recoupment rates are getting higher and higher along with it.


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  • Jared W says:

    Don’t forget that there are also physically less theatres than there were 50 years ago. I know many smaller playhouses were demolished or converted into other uses during the leaner times of the 70s and 80s, which combined with longer runs is really making it harder for new shows to find a home.

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    Fascinating figures, Ken. Thanks for sharing them. The question is, why on Earth is the Ford Center (or whatever they are calling it these days) going to tie itself up with Cirque Du Soleil? I realize it has had a hard time finding hits, but so what? A stream of short runs adds up to the same income doesn’t it? And why aren’t new theaters being built? Why aren’t old ones being refurbished and re-opened? I would also point out that a long run doesn’t equal quality. These shows that are running forever mostly do so because they are so dumbed-down, even non-English speakers can “enjoy” them, if you want to call it that. I don’t mind that; Broadway has always had an element of mindless spectacle to it. But when they take-up all the spaces available,, how can more artistic work ever get produced?

  • Tom says:

    We put so much importance on playing Broadway, but with long running shows and only so many theaters we make it hard for new works to attempt it. Shows should only be able to run till they recoup plus two years. This way investors will see some profit from the Broadway run and leave Theaters available for the next Schwartz or McNally. And yes, I have on occasion, invested in a Broadway show.

  • Rick S says:

    I’m not sure that length of run is the best criteria to explain the shortage of theaters. After all, two shows that run 208 performances each is the same as one show that plays a year. Perhaps the better thing to look at is the total number of playing weeks each year divided by number of theaters (which varies over the years).

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