by Mo Brady
The cycle of Broadway openings and closings ebb and flow differently each season. Some years, every single Broadway house will be full of audiences. Other seasons, the glow of Midtown’s marquees will be considerably darker.
In the next month, three new musicals will shutter on Broadway: Bandstand, Groundhog Day and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. Each of these shows launched onto the Great White Way with hopes of being the next theatrical juggernaut.
But for each of these shows, something didn’t click and the audiences didn’t come. Or they came, but they didn’t tell their friends to come. Or they came, but not enough came to make the show financially solvent. It is called “show BUSINESS” after all.
As a theatre lover, it’s hard not to mourn the closing of a Broadway musical. Each show’s story will never be told in quite the same way once the production shutters. Yes, there are sure to be regional, student and community theatre productions of each of these shows. Yes, each show will reach generations of new fans through their cast recordings and YouTube clips (and podcast interviews!) But the show’s quintessential Broadway production will live only in the memories of those who saw it.
For the company of a show, closing is even sadder. No longer do you have the steady paycheck of a production salary hitting your bank account (or, half a production salary after federal taxes, state taxes, city taxes, agent fees and 401k contributions.) No longer do you have a convenient, private Midtown restroom to use whenever you’re running between auditions.
No longer do you have the glamour of being on Broadway, even if it only seems glamorous to your family back home, the occasional waiter and the 8-year-old version of yourself still living inside you. No longer do you have the tight-knit community of people you sit next to backstage in folding chairs to talk to while you put on wig prep or play on your phone between scenes.
And that’s sad. But it’s also life.
One of the beautiful, tragic things about Broadway is that shows have to close for new shows to open. Broadway is a vibrant artistic community not because every show stays open for years, but because there’s always new show coming just around the corner. A new show that will push our artform just a little bit further and that will affect audiences in new ways.
Bandstand’s inventive staging shook how audiences remember PTSD. Groundhog Day introduced new technical feats in storytelling to Broadway. The Great Comet took what we thought a Broadway show looked like and turned it on its head. But the next shows to fill the Jacobs, August Wilson and Imperial Theatres will push our artform forward a little further. In ways we can’t even imagine now.
New groups of artists will come together as family to sit on folding chairs playing on their phones. New groups of audiences will see themselves in new stories (or in new interpretations of old stories in revivals). New fans will listen to new cast albums and obsess over new Broadway stars, who were once 8-year-old Broadway fans themselves.
It’s the circle of (Broadway) life. And that’s not sad, that’s magnificent.
Mo Brady is co-creator and host of The Ensemblist podcast.