Is Long The New Short on Broadway?

“Do you know the four best words in the English Language?” said one Tony Voter to another.

“No, what are the four best words in the English Language?” asked the second.

“90 minutes.  No intermission.”


This is a real joke I’ve heard over a dozen times over the last few years, from industry and non-industry folks alike.  And there’s no question that shorter shows have been “in” as the attention span of our consumers has shrunk since the days of the three-act play.

In fact, we proved that shows have been getting shorter in this post (complete with graphs and everything!).

And then there’s this season.

We’ve got a two-part, over seven-hour Angels in America that’s doing heavenly numbers.  Then there’s the two-part, over two-and-half-hours each Harry Potter that’s working its box office magic.  Not to mention the nearly three-hour musical revival up at the Lincoln Center and another ol‘ classic carouseling in at a similar time down here, plus that almost 4 hour Iceman has cometh again.

And they’re all doing just fine.

It would be a common sense thought for a writer or producer in 2018 to think, “My show has to be short.” But this season is a perfect reminder that there are no hard and steadfast rules in the theater, or in any business, for that matter.  The moment you think one way, here comes a disruptor to make you think another.

So if your show is in 16 parts and runs 13 and a half weeks, that’s fine.

It just means that your show has to be that much better, and your word of mouth that much stronger, in order for you to overcome this pain point for a potential customer.

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  • Justin says:

    All of the people who make that joke can afford to drop 300 bucks on 90 minutes. I’m sorry but if it’s 90 minutes, I can watch that on Netflix or at the movies and I’m willing to wait it out for it to come on another media. Why give me popcorn when I’m looking to buy a steak?

  • Geneva Chapman says:

    My musical, “A Marvel, A Miracle, America!” is rather long. After reading this I’m thinking of making it shorter; way too many songs, anyway. However, the story could unfold without so many songs (many are short) Back in the 1980s when I wrote the first drat it was shorter and remained shorter through other drafts. However, it’s now epic in size. Excerpts from the last scene were featured in a couple of New York play festivals last year (had to cancel a third). I’m going to seriously think about making it a 90-minute show with fewer songs

    • Justin says:

      Geneva, go with your gut… and audience feedback. I recently saw Big Fish and there were a few numbers that should have gotten the ax in my opinion; numbers that made it longer than it needed to be. If I look at my watch during a production, that’s not a good sign. I try to live by the creed “If it doesn’t serve the story, kill it… even if it’s your favorite baby.” I’ve had to toss many a favorite child because they didn’t serve the story. I’m with Justin, though. Personally, I’m not spending today’s theatre ticket prices on a production that’s shorter than your average modern action flick. But that doesn’t mean writers should craft their scripts longer than they need to be for the sake of filling time (i.e. Big Fish). Each story has it’s own natural run time. Some are epic and some are succinct. My first novel ended up as a novelette. I wanted it to be longer, but the story said “no.” Feedback from test audiences will let you know. Getting coverage on your script helps tremendously as well. Good luck!

  • robert winthrop talmage says:

    Had a meeting with a director who is adamant about 90 minutes for the Asian market. Agreed, Justin…hardest thing to do is cut a song you have ‘near and dear’ to your heart. Pare down.

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