50 Years of Broadway Musical Source Material. A By The Numbers Infographic.

One of my favorite questions to ask my writer podcast guests is where they get their ideas for their musicals.  Because whether we like it or not, the Broadway Musical is not an original business.  Absolutely original ideas are rare, as you’ll see below, partly because they are so risky.  What makes them so?  Is it because audiences need some pre-existing brand to help them plunk down their credit card?  Or is it because original ideas are harder to execute and therefore just don’t turn out as good?

We’ll leave those questions for another blog.  Because today we’re here to take a deep data dive into all the material that has inspired Broadway musicals for the last fifty (!) years.  What type of source material inspires the most Broadway shows?  And how has that changed over the years?  And what is the preferred source material for some of our most successful writers?

This one is a fascinating one, my blog-friends, and not only gives us insight on where to get good ideas, but also gives us an idea of what our audiences are craving today, versus yesterday.

Enjoy the infographic!

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50 Years of Musical Adaptations final


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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  • Jay Z says:

    Love this, thanks Ken!

    And I think there is another takeaway revealed in this data. If you solely focused on “original” vs “based on” something, then clearly 50% are “based on” some other form. But if you instead focus on story, how old or new the story is, then data from the book adaptations timeline and real people/events timeline plus wholely original musical shows that newer/fresher stories are done more often. Which explains why literature is dropping as a source vs film because we get more new stories from film now. Comics and graphic novels are now going to grow as a source.

    All this is encouraging for living writers…keep generating fresh stories and get them into the world through whatever medium you can, and some will turn into musicals.

  • Michael says:

    Very interesting, but the American Musical goes back at least another 50 years (to include Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, Rodgers, Porter, et al.) and it would be interesting to see how it has changed over the past 100 years.

  • Rich Mc says:

    Ken – You really did an outstanding job with this, and I think it validates my comment a couple nights ago that only a small percentage of b-way shows are truly original. My only quibble, and it is major, is that you need to superimpose “recouping” shows with the rest of this data. (Tony winners are a poor proxy.) Doing so would show the world whether investors should throw their $$$ behind existing trends toward, e.g. Jukebox Musicals and shows based on films, or perhaps another category. I believe you have the data to add this dimension, and you should definitely do it!

  • Marshall says:

    God bless you, Ken Davenport! I’m probably only one of a handful that find every stat enlightening. Know my cohorts roll their eyes when I say, “Come look at THIS!” 🙂 Thank you for terrific data!

  • Josh says:

    This is amazing information and analysis.
    My only question is: wasn’t “Children of Eden” written in 1986, and thus a Bible-based musical after 1976?
    I will assign this link to my history of the musical class! Thanks so much!

  • Daniel says:

    I take it the adaptation of Fun Home into a musical doesn’t count for this data since it wasn’t a Broadway release until 2015? I suppose that will make it the first 21st century book to be adapted as a Broadway musical.

  • Rick says:

    Ken, This is powerful and exciting!!! My show will be among one of the Unique percentages …Yea!!!

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