When Broadway Shows Close Quickly

broadway shows close quickly

My friend Adeline and I have been planning to see the play Significant Other on Broadway for a few months, and we’ve been patiently waiting for our spring trip into Manhattan to see it. However, the production, an off-Broadway transfer, was not performing well. The show was making around 20% of its potential gross per week¹, and the infamous Broadway message boards spoke of the play’s inevitable demise. The show’s producers soon announced a July closing date, but only 5 days later, announced that the play would actually close April 23rd after only 79 total performances—and just one day after Adeline and I are to see it.

Sadly, this story isn’t unique—shows shuttering suddenly is not an unusual occurrence on Broadway. According to statistics compiled by Adeline earlier this year, seven of the 11 new musicals that opened on Broadway last season closed before reaching 150 performances, which is roughly 19 weeks of eight-week shows. One musical, Tuck Everlasting, closed after only 67 performances, or just over eight weeks, with only six day’s notice of closing. (For a closer look at similar statistics, check out Adeline’s blog post about it!)

When Broadway seasons are crowded with new plays and musicals, with so much competition, it makes sense that not all of them can survive—especially plays with no “big-name” actors, like Significant Other. This season alone, there are 10 new plays and 13 new musicals, and already many of them are struggling to stay afloat. While it’s wonderful that the Broadway stage allows show’s creators to bring their works to wider audiences, if their show doesn’t do well, the creators will see their years of time, love, and hard work crumble before their eyes. Not only that, it also puts countless people out of work—all of the actors, techies, and bartenders working on the show lose their jobs.

In non-commercial theatre houses (like regional theatre companies and the two Broadway non-profit, subscription-based theatre companies, Roundabout Theatre Company and Manhattan Theatre Club), shows are not intended to run forever. There is an opening night and a closing night set in stone before the show even enters production. And while there are other special cases on Broadway, where commercial productions can run for limited engagements (like this season’s revival of Sunday in the Park With George), most often, shows are backed by producers who have invested millions and wish to both recoup and make a profit, hoping the production will have a long life with tours, regional licensing, and merchandising in tow.

broadway shows close quickly inforgraphic

With all this focus on the monetary aspects of theatre, it begs the question: why are we doing this in the first place? Is it for the sake of turning a profit, or for the sake of art itself? In a perfect world, art would be made for art’s sake, period. And in many communities, that is the case. But when you’re taking on Broadway, a behemoth, 1.36-billion-dollar-a-year industry², money can’t help but factor into the question. Some shows never make it to Broadway because producers don’t think of them as commercially viable. But there are also producers who follow the mindset of entering the business purely because they love the art—because they are so passionate about a piece of theatre that they don’t want to live in a world where it doesn’t exist—and know that they will most likely take a loss. (On average, only 21 percent of shows recoup³.)

The drama surrounding shows closing quickly was not always present on the Great White Way. In fact, in very first Broadway “hit” ran for 50 performances¹¹. Now, with long-running shows like The Phantom of the Opera (with over 12,000 performances), the 67-performance run of Tuck Everlasting seems minuscule, whereas it would’ve been (healthy) back then.

One infamous “flop” was Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. A show about songwriters, playwrights, and the theatre industry itself that wrestles with the question of selling out for money at the expense of artistry, Merrily closed after only 52 previews and 16 performances. But, decades later, the musical has a cult following, celebrating the production and its storied life. Financially, the show probably lost millions. But should that mean it wasn’t a successful piece of art? The story has since touched countless lives. While money came and money went, good art was made, and that should be enough. As the show’s lyrics go, “If it only even runs a minute / At least it’s a wedge / It’s the theatre and we’re really in it / Not just on the edge.”

Theatre is, at its core, an ephemeral art form. To truly experience it, you have to be in the room where it happens. But even while it’s happening, it’s slipping away. You can never experience the same piece twice—each night there are new moments, new nuances to the show, and each time you are in the audience, you are a different person, seeing the show through different eyes. So, it’s only fitting that shows can’t—and don’t—run forever. But, for the people who do manage to see Tuck Everlasting, Significant Other, and the other shows that close quickly, they will hold on to those experiences for the rest of their lives, carrying with them the stories, songs, and emotions that touched them those nights. While money dictates which shows thrive, when it’s all said and done, Broadway is a place where good art is made, and I think we need to cherish that.

What do you think when Broadway shows close quickly? Let me know in the comments below! 


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¹”Broadway Grosses.” BroadwayWorld, http://www.broadwayworld.com/grosses.cfm. 

²”Broadway Season Statistics.” The Broadway League, https://www.broadwayleague.com/research/statistics-broadway-nyc/

³Davenport, Ken. “Sure, These Broadway Shows Recouped! But Why? A By The Numbers Infographic.” The Producer’s Perspective, https://www.theproducersperspective.com/my_weblog/2015/01/sure-these-broadway-shows-recouped-but-why-a-by-the-numbers-infographic.html. 

¹¹”The History of Broadway.” History Things, http://historythings.com/the-history-of-broadway/. 

More about Kelly

Hi, I’m Kelly! I’m here to give busy college students a guide to navigating the modern theatre world. I’m passionate about spreading my love of theatre, traveling, and trying new things.

2 thoughts on “When Broadway Shows Close Quickly

  1. pomatterpie

    First, I love the sentiment about Broadway being a place for great art at the end of the day. Truly that’s what matters. However, I was hoping you could expand further on your assertion that “”Chances are many will close around Tony season if they do not get nominations or wins.”

    I struggle with this because there are a lot of shows last season that many nominations and closed, or got few/no nominations and stayed open. For instance, Shuffle Along and Bright Star each received several nominations, and American Psycho had two, but all closed quickly. On the other hand, Waitress had fewer noms than Shuffle Along and Bright Star and is probably the most financially successful musical of last season besides Hamilton. School of Rock had few nominations and is also still open. And, most notably, On Your Feet! had only one nomination and is still running strong.

    Can we really say that from 2016 there is a meaningful trend relating number of nominations and financial success? To me, it appears that the lion’s share of awards/nominations went to Hamilton and shows with limited runs, from which we can draw few conclusions. How is your conclusion not simply anecdotal based on what our intuition would suggest about the relationship between Tony nominations and box office success?

    Reply

    1. Kelly

      Hey! Thank you so much for your comment. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been incredibly busy and haven’t had the time to do much of anything related to my blog. But yes-you have a lot of great insight, and I truly appreciate it. And you’re right, Hamilton did create a Tony season with many outliers, and Tonys themselves do not determine a show’s success–many factors go into that.

      I do admit, the infographic was an afterthought and was probably more hastily put together than it should have been. However, let me point to some reporters who are more in tune with and more well versed in the business of Broadway than I am: in this article, it mentions that all of the shows are fighting for a slice of a pretty small pie, in that audience members can only see (and afford) so many shows, and truthfully, many tourists are just interested in seeing the big hits with names they recognize. And this article speaks much of the same, going into more detail on how certain shows are doing and what their fates look like.

      My analyzation of grosses, statistics, and the fates of shows is one of an amateur, someone just on the periphery of the business, so it will never be perfect. While I make my share of mistakes, I do love discussion and being educated on topics because there is so much more to learn.

      Reply

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