Across the pond is a lot further than we think.

I saw War Horse when it was a wee pony of a show at the National Theatre and remember thinking how wonderful it was going to be on Broadway.

And it was.

Although it didn’t last as long over here as it did over there.

Same thing was true for Billy Elliot.  That little boy danced his tutu off for a couple o’ years on Broadway, while his British counterpart kept on pirouetting for another year more.

And Oliver?  Why, it hasn’t even been revived on Broadway since The Orwellian Year of 1984.  Almost 30 years!  I think we’ve had 14 revivals of Into the Woods since then.

Interesting trend, right?  I know, you’re saying it’s the economics.  Broadway is more expensive than producing in the UK, which is why hit shows over there may be hits over here, but for not as long.

Well, with that logic, wouldn’t it mean that hits from here would last longer there?

Like, oh, I don’t know . . . Rent.

Nope.

Avenue Q?

Sorry, Charlie.

In the Heights?

Hasn’t even been there.

Those are three Tony Award winning musicals (and one Pulitzer winner, btw), and none of them achieved the success across the Atlantic that they did here.

Not coincidentally, all those shows were set in NYC.  And War Horse, Billy Elliott, Oliver, etc. are set in jolly ol’ England.

Now look, there are obviously umpteen factors that determine the success or lack thereof of a musical.

But one of those factors is without a doubt geographic.  Producing a show in the city/county/country where it’s set, gives you an immediate in with the audience.  What an audience relates to, they are more likely to enjoy, and more importantly, recommend.

 

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When pop composers become musical composers.

Over the past decade or so, Broadway has had a popular music invasion, as artists like Elton John, Paul Simon, U2, The Eurythmics tried their hand at writing the score to a musical.  Some to success, others to not.  And this year, we’ve got Cyndi Lauper and Phish (!) joining the ranks, with Kinky Boots (!!) and Hands on a Hardbody respectively.

As someone who develops musicals, I have to admit, having a successful pop artist on the writing team is an attractive proposition.  They usually have a knack for melody, and come with millions of fans.

So why not take anyone who has a couple gold albums, right?

Well, like anything else that Producers do, it’s important that you don’t make a choice solely for marketing’s sake.  Art has to come first, no matter how tempting it may be.  Because as I said in an article about Spider-Man some months ago, “Writing a three minute song is a lot different than writing a three hour musical.”

Yes, memorable melodies and snappy hooks are an essential part of writing a quality score . . . but musicals tell stories, and musicals develop characters . . . and that’s not as easy as coming up with a catchy chorus and couple of words that stay top o’ mind (Taylor Swift’s “Trouble, Trouble, Trouble” comes to mind).

So when I’m in the market for a composer that may come from the popular music world, I look for song writers that tell stories in their songs first and foremost, whether or not they’ve got Grammys on their resume.  And as luck would have it, there are a few Grammy winners that have the knack (Elton, Paul, Billy, Bruce, Cyndi (!) and I always thought Tracy Chapman would write a great story-show).  Find one that can do both, and you could have an artistic and marketing one-two puncheroo.

But go after someone just because their tunes are on iTunes could get you in a lot of Taylor-like trouble, trouble, trouble.

Because just because a composer comes with millions of fans, doesn’t mean those fans will come out for your show.

 

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When was the last time there wasn’t a Sondheim show on Broadway?

Everyone knows that the great Mr. S. has had a major impact on the Broadway stage, right?

Well, get this.

Our office just noticed that there isn’t a show with songs by our “Shakespeare”  this season.  And for some reason that felt a little odd.

So we started sorting through the last few seasons of shows and realized it was odder than we thought.

In fact . . .

This is the first year since . . . ready for it . . . 1992 (!) that there hasn’t been a Sondheim show on The Great White Way.  Don’t believe me?  Check for yourself!

Shocking, right?  Shocking that there isn’t one, and shocking that for the last twenty years the Maestro has had some kind of representation on the boards.

What does this mean?  An anomaly?  Have we finally run out of his shows to revive?  Or, gulp, is he falling out of favor?  I don’t see any works slated for next season either . . . will it be two years in a row (trend alert).  Or will Passion move and put us back on track?

All those questions aside . . . I’ll end with this.  We should all stop for a moment and remark on the incredible feat that this man has achieved.  A show with your songs each year for 20 years?  Like it or not, recouping or not, this dude is a deity.

 

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Now let’s see how revivals are trending! Part II

Yesterday we refuted the notion that the number of new plays and new musicals were on a precipitous decline over the last thirty years.

Today we’ve got a couple more graphs for you, but this time we’re looking to find the revival trend line.  Are they increasing?  Decreasing?

Before you scroll down to find out the answer, take a guess.  Revivals of musicals?  Upward trend?  Downward?  Plays?

Ok, once you’ve placed your internal bet with yourself take a look below.

Here is a graph of the number of Revivals of Musicals over the last three decades:

revival musical

What do you see?  Well, I see a little lift off since around, oh, 1997.  The average for the entire thirty years is 3.6, whereas since ’97, it’s over 4.

If you remember correctly, that’s exactly when the trend for new musicals seemed to increase as well.  Coincidence? I think not.  What exactly happened then?  Not sure . . . but I’ll do some digging.  You have any thoughts?

Let’s move on to plays.  Here’s the chart:

revival play

Not surprisingly, revivals of plays do look like they are on their way up (thank you limited-run-star-driven-revival, and this trend seemed to have started in around 90-91, earlier then other increases.)

So what do today’s and yesterday’s graphs show us?  Well, the idea that new plays are on the downswing is a bit of a mirage, actually.  They’re not, really.  BUT they are the only genre out of these four that are remaining flat.  We’re seeing some amount of increase in the number of new musicals, and revivals of both plays and musicals.  But new plays are just kind of sitting there.

So how do we throw some gas on the new play graph?  Reduce risks for new plays on Broadway (should all parties, from Authors to GMs to Lighting Companies to Theater Owners get lower rates on new plays versus old, convince stars to do more new plays as opposed to revivals (separate Tonys for acting in new plays?),  lower prices for audiences of new plays?).

But the easiest answer is perhaps the hardest to accomplish.  We need great plays.

And that means we need great writers.

If you want to see more new plays on Broadway then do what you can, support new and emerging writers.  See more off-off Broadway shows.  Donate to a kick-starter.  Or if you’re a theatre pro, lend a developmental ear to someone that’s passionate about writing for the theater.

Because great artists are the best way to change the course of any graph.

 

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Are new plays and new musicals really on the downswing? Part I

I read a quote recently which lamented the fact that there weren’t as many new plays on Broadway anymore.

At first, my head started a-nodding in agreement.  It’s easy to jump on the ol’ “things aren’t so good” whine-wagon.  But then I wondered, “Is that really the case?”  I know it seems like that, and maybe it is, but before I just start joining the pessimists club, let’s take a look at the statistics shall we?  Maybe the picture ain’t as gloomy as we think?

So, my trusty intern Kate and I, went into the season archives of IBDB, and simply counted the number of new plays and new musicals over the last three decades to see if we could find some kind of trend line, good or gloomy.

Here’s a chart of the number of new plays on Broadway since the 1982-83 season through today:

new plays 2

Well?  What do you think?

Seems to me that the sweet spot of new plays is between 10 and 15 (average of the 30 years is 12.77), and actually there isn’t much of a swing in either direction, or a downward trend line.  Although we don’t jump over that 15 mark much, and we have sunk below the 10 line a few times, it seems to be that we’re sort of consistent.  (Note to self:  if ever I see a season where there is more than 15 new plays being produced – see if there’s another season when I can do my show.)

So in the modern theatrical era (what I call the 80s to now), we’re not doing drastically less new plays.

Now, let’s check out the same stats for new musicals:

new musicals

To quote an Xmas Carol, “Do you see what I see?”

After a downward trend in the first part of the decade, there’s actually a slight upward slant since 1997 (average of the entire three decades is 9 and since 1996, the average is almost 10 .  No coincidence that this is also when Broadway grosses started an upward trend as well.)

So, the picture ain’t so bad after all.  And that means, Pessimist club?  You’ve got one less member.

While sure, it’d be great if we could produce more new plays and more new musicals, we actually have a real estate issue (see this blog) and a audience development issue (our attendance has been relatively flat – see this blog).  But the good news is, we’re not producing less.

Tomorrow I’ll look at the trend for revivals.  More Graphs!  #GraphNerdAlert

 

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