“Broadway is a definite symbol of New York. It’s classic New York.” —Katharine McPhee
Broadway theatre, commonly referred to as “Broadway,” is the name for the theatrical performances performed in 41 professional theatres located along Broadway in Manhattan, New York City. Along with London’s West End, it represents the best commercial theatre in the English-Speaking world. Below are 42 show-stopping facts about Broadway shows.
42. Longest Run
The Phantom of the Opera is Broadway’s longest-running show. It opened in 1988 on Broadway and has been staged over 11,400 times.
41. A Lotta Jazz
Chicago is the second longest running show after Phantom. A revival of the show opened on Broadway in 1996, and has been played around 7,500 times. In contrast, the original 1975 run only played for 936 performances on Broadway until 1977.
40. Mistaken Time Period
Contrary to popular belief, Les Miserables is not set during the French Revolution of 1789. The action begins in 1815 and spans 20 years (including the French Uprising of 1832).
39. First to a Billion
Disney’s The Lion King is the first Broadway show to gross $1 billion dollars in revenue. In the 20 years since it opened on Broadway, the show has grossed $1.4 billion, with an average of $2 million a week.
For the 2016-2017 season, total Broadway attendance reached 13,270,343 people, and the shows grossed $1,449,399,149. This was the highest grossing season in Broadway history, and the second-best attended.
37. An Operatic Wizard
While most people are familiar with The Wizard of Oz through the 1939 film with Judy Garland, the book originally took to the stage in 1902 as a Vaudeville-type operetta. The show contained 60 songs and had significant changes from the book, including the physical absence of the Wicked Witch of the West, a smaller role for the Cowardly Lion, and a cow named Imogene in place of Toto the dog. The show was a hit, however, and ran for 293 performances on Broadway.
36. Broadway or Off Broadway?
The way to determine whether or not a show is considered “Broadway” or “off-Broadway” is by the number of seats. In order to be considered “On Broadway,” a theater must seat at least 500. Off-Broadway can seat between 100-499 people.
35. A Singular Sensation
On July 25, 1975, A Chorus Line opened at the Schubert Theatre on Broadway. The show told the story of 17 dancers competing for eight spots in a Broadway chorus, and was based on the shared stories of real-life dancers. It loosened the rules for how musicals had to be structured, and showed that monologues and songs could be their own plot if they were centered on a single idea. It remains the sixth longest-running show on Broadway after 6,137 performances.
15 actors have played the role of the Phantom on Broadway, and there have been five temporary replacements. On May 12, 2014, Norm Lewis made history when he became the first African-American actor to perform the role of the Phantom on Broadway.
33. From Murder Case to Musical
Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan were both accused of murdering their lovers in 1924. Gaertner’s lover was found dead in his car next to a bottle of gin, and shortly after the police found Gaertner at her apartment with with blood-soaked clothes on her floor. Annan got into an argument with her lover while having an extramarital affair, and shot him back after an argument and a night of drinking. Both Gaertner and Annan’s stories were sensationalized by the press, and neither were convicted. Reporter Maurine Watkins worked on their cases, and based the musical Chicago on their stories. The show was also adapted into an Oscar-winning film version starring Renee Zellweger as Roxie Hart (based on Annan) and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly (based on Gaertner).
32. Motown Meets Broadway
In the 1970s, African-American influenced musical styles such as Motown, R&B, funk, and gospel were dominating the radio, and composer Charlie Smalls reworked these styles into a musical based on The Wizard of Oz. The Wiz opened on Broadway in 1975, and was adapted into a film version starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in 1978.
31. The Hip-Hop Musical
In 2015, a hip-hop musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, opened on Broadway. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton‘s creator, was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton. Still, there was a lot of luck involved: ““I was just browsing the biography section,” he said, “It could have been Truman.”
30. Tiny Tribute
If you listen closely in the smash hit musical Wicked, which is inspired by The Wizard of Oz, you’ll hear a tiny tribute to the song “Over the Rainbow” in the song “Unlimited/I’m Limited.” Due to copyright laws, they were only able to use the first seven notes, and the song also uses a different rhythm and harmony to disguise the original.
29. The Last Song He Ever Wrote
“Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music is the last song that Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote together; Hammerstein was suffering from stomach cancer while working on the show.
28. Fit to Their Faces
Each actor playing the role of the Phantom has a mask custom made from a mold of their face. In the show’s 29-year Broadway run, 300 masks have been custom-made.
27. Jukebox Musical
The show Jersey Boys (and its subsequent film) is based on the life and rise to fame of the popular Jersey quartet The Four Seasons in the 1960s. The live show features 33 songs, 11 of which have made it to the Billboard Top Ten.
26. 37,000 Hours
It took over 37,000 hours (the equivalent of about 4.22 years) to build all of the puppets and used in The Lion King musical. Over 232 puppets can be seen in the show, including rod puppets, shadow puppets, and full-sized puppets.
25. Now and Forever
Before being surpassed by The Phantom of the Opera, another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical held the record for Broadway’s longest-running musical, living up to its tagline “now and forever.” The musical Cats ran on Broadway from 1987-2006, and is now the fourth-longest running show both on Broadway and in London’s West End.
24. Girl Power
The musical Waitress, composed by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, is the first musical to feature an all-female creative team. In a 2016 TIME interview, director Diane Paulus stated “what’s important to me is that every woman is in the position on this team because they’re the best person for the job. So what does that mean? It means that women are on the top of their game.”
23. No Day But Today
Based on the opera La Boheme, Rent has enjoyed great popularity since its opening. The score narrowed the gap between popular music and musicals, and shined a light on people living with AIDS. Despite its success in hindsight, many original cast and crew members were nervous about the show and tried to pass on it!
22. Seven Lost Songs
When Disney’s Aladdin was developed for Broadway, composer Alan Menken resurrected seven “lost” songs that never made it into the animated film. Among them were the ballad “Proud of Your Boy” and “Somebody’s Got Your Back.” In an interview with Digital Spy, Menken admitted that he believes integrating those songs is one of the keys to the success of the show.
21. 150 Renditions
The show-stopping song “Memory” from Cats has been recorded more than 150 times. Covers include a high-charting version by Barry Manilow and a well-known rendition by Barbra Streisand.
20. A Mix of Fairy Tales
Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods features characters from a number of different fairy tales. An early draft of the show included Rumpelstiltskin and The Three Little Pigs, both of which were cut from the final show. In a 2002 revival, the pigs were briefly restored.
19. Iconic Costume
Belle’s yellow ball gown in Beauty and the Beast is one of the most memorable costumes in musical theatre: The original gown worn by Susan Egan in the Broadway production weighed nearly 40 pounds and was a mix of hoop, silk, brocade, flowers, beading, and bows. The dress was so elaborate that it didn’t even fit down the stairwell to Egan’s dressing room! Once she was out of the dress, three crewmembers would hook it up to wires and fly it up to the rafters backstage until the next performance.
18. Started as a Mixtape
Hamilton did not begin its life as a musical. Although Miranda always had an eye for the stage, he began the show with the idea of a concept album. In January 2012, he performed 12 musical numbers from The Hamilton Mixtape at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, and began workshopping the show in 2014. After a brief off-Broadway tryout, it made the jump to Broadway in July, 2015.
17. Broadway Chopper
One of the most memorable things about Miss Saigon is the helicopter that’s used on stage. To get the helicopter on stage, the production first had to gut it, leaving only the tail light, the rotor, and the cockpit. Clever lighting fills in the rest.
16. Flopped the First Time
The Musical about the Peanuts gang You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown flopped when it first played on Broadway; it opened in 1971 and played for a miniscule 32 performances. In 1999, the show was revived with future stars Kristin Chenoweth and Anthony Rapp, who put the show on the map for all your future high school theatre productions.
15. A Kingly Career
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I was based on the real-life experiences of Anna Leonowens tutoring the royal family of Siam. Yul Brynner played the King and ended up making a career playing the role, starring in the 1956 film version of the musical and in several revivals until his death in 1985.
14. The Perfect Musical Comedy
Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, opened on Broadway in 1950 and played for over 1,000 performances. The show is considered by many to be the perfect musical comedy; as the reviewer for the Daily News wrote after the show’s opening, “it is swift, crisp and precise, with not a lagging instant.”
13. A Musical About Teen Suicide
At the 2017 Tony Awards, Dear Evan Hansen won the trophy for Best Musical and continues to climb the Broadway box-office charts. Written by the same team who wrote the Oscar-winning song from La La Land, the show was inspired by composer Benj Pasek’s real-life experience in high school when a student died of a drug overdose.
12. Show-Stealing Choreography
The choreography for Disney’s Newsies is a big part of the show’s charm. The cast members perform 31 backflips, along with countless spins, leaps, and tap steps in the course of the show. Also? Fans of the show call themselves “Fansies.”
11. Krup You!
Sondheim originally wanted the F-word to make its musical theatre debut in West Side Story, but Columbia Records, who released the original cast recording, informed him that the use of that word would violate obscenity laws and prevent the show from touring. Sondheim instead went with “Krup You” at the end of the “Gee Officer Krupke” number.
10. Religious Satire
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker both shocked and delighted audiences with their 2011 musical The Book of Mormon. The show offers up equal opportunity satire, making fun of anything and everything from proselytizing to African dictators. For all its ribbing, Parker and Stone maintain that their aim is not to offend but to entertain. It seems they achieved their goal; the show took home nine Tony Awards and continues to sell out around the world.
9. The Ultimate Audition Test
Musical theatre is full of challenging and gut-wrenching songs to sing, but one song stands out as the”‘ultimate audition test.” Because of its speed and emotional intimacy, “Getting Married Today” from Company is one of the hardest songs in musical theatre to sing. The song imitates the sensation of having a mental breakdown, and the singer can scarcely pause for a breath during the entire go of it.
8. Game Changer
The arrival of Show Boat on Broadway in 1927 changed the course of Broadway musicals. The characters were three dimensional and realistic, and it successfully integrated music with a plot that portrayed African-American characters in a sympathetic manner.
7. Blurred Lines
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel was significant for its blurring of the lines between songs and dialogue. The seven-and-a-half-minute song “Soliloquy” requires the singer to sing solo and occasionally speak (similarly to an operatic aria).
6. Sesame Street for Grown-ups
The song “For Now” in Avenue Q was originally written with the line “George Bush is only for now,” and the line has since been replaced with various other things tied to current events. In a recent US run, “Fox News” was inserted as the lyric.
5. The Plotless Musical
Sondheim’s Company is unique not only because the songs do not advance the plot—there’s no plot to advance! The show begins and ends on main character Robert’s 35th birthday. Sondheim recently approved an updated version that will rewrite Robert (Bobby) as a woman.
4. Rock Collage
Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s score was inspired by a number of rock musicians ranging from David Bowie and Iggie Pop to Anne Murray. It also draws inspiration from Plato’s Symposium; the lyrics to the song “Origin of Love” are loosely adapted from the text.
3. Musical Comedy Returns!
Between 1970 and 2000, finding a successful musical comedy on Broadway was almost impossible. That changed with the arrival of The Producers, based on the Mel Brooks film of the same name. The show was a smash success, and won 15 Tonys. It also paved the way for other films, such as Billy Elliot and Legally Blonde, to be adapted into Broadway shows.
2. The Mother of All Weirdness
You wouldn’t think that the Stephen King novel Carrie would make for a good Broadway musical, and, uh, you’d be right. Called the “mother of all weirdness,” the show closed after just five performances and made history by becoming the most expensive flop ever in 1988. The second act opener was a song and dance about slaughtering a pig, and Frank Rich of the New York Times compared the show to the Hindenburg disaster.
1. Culturally Significant
The musical Hair remains one of the most culturally significant shows in Broadway and American history. Not only did it define the “rock musical,” it also described the changes, from the sexual revolution to the Civil Rights Movement, that were occurring in society at the time.
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