Broadway Openings Crowd Theaters as Hopefuls Aim for Tony Nominations

The Tony Award nominations are set to take place April 30, and in the lead-up, the month is jam-packed with Broadway openings, with 14 taking place over the course of 11 days.

While the days before the Tony Awards eligibility cutoff, on April 25, are typically filled with openings, many industry insiders are optimistic that this year’s rush spells somewhat of a return to normalcy. But with the influx of shows and changing audience makeup, producers are also anxious about making sure their shows stand out to ticket-buyers and can make it to the Tony Awards ceremony on June 16 and beyond.

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“It largely feels very exciting. For the first time in a while, it really feels like we are back to pre-pandemic levels of volume,” says Greg Nobile, producer of several shows on Broadway this season, including the new musicals Lempicka and Illinoise and the play revival of An Enemy of the People.

“We just can’t take anything for granted in terms of how we market shows and communicate about our shows,” he adds.

The crop of new spring musicals include some known IP, such as The Outsiders, The Great Gatsby, The Notebook and Water for Elephants (the latter two opened slightly ahead of the rush, in March) as well as original material, such as Suffs, about the women’s suffrage movement, Lempicka, about the artist Tamara de Lempicka. Illinoise, a last-minute entrant to the season, is based on the album by Sufjan Stevens, while Hell’s Kitchen is loosely based on Alicia Keys’ life and includes songs from her catalog, and The Heart of Rock and Roll features music from Huey Lewis’ catalog.

Other openings this month include the musical revivals of The Wiz and Cabaret, which stars Eddie Redmayne, as well as the Netflix-backed play Patriots, about a Russian billionaire who helps bring Vladimir Putin to power, and Stereophonic, set in the 1970s recording studio of an up-and-coming band. There’s an Uncle Vanya revival starring Steve Carrell and the plays Mary Jane, starring Rachel McAdams as a mother caring for a chronically ill son, and Mother Play, starring Jessica Lange as the mother overseeing the move of her children, played by Jim Parsons and Celia Keenan-Bolger.

Broadway productions typically concentrate their openings around the Tonys eligibility deadline in hopes of staying top-of-mind for Tony voters and getting a ticket boost from press coverage surrounding the awards. But, as calculated by Time Out’s Adam Feldman, this season marks the highest number of shows opening in the final 10-day stretch, with 12 opening before the deadline.

The number of new shows will increase the number of seats on Broadway from about 240,000 across all productions at the end of March to 350,000 as things heat up in April. It’s an increase that Brian DeVito, an independent ticketing consultant who works on Hadestown, Moulin Rouge! and Back to the Future, believes Broadway, as an industry, can ultimately handle. (He points to the fact that in the week ended March 31, grosses were up 8 percent over 2023 — though it was a spring break week, which boosts the numbers — and, with 32 shows running, theater houses were largely filled.)

But the timing, as is typically the case, is slightly off, as the influx of new shows arrives just after spring break crowds die down and before the summer tourists arrive in June. And while audience numbers are improving, and indexing comparatively younger than pre-pandemic, some groups of ticket-buyers still have yet to return, including suburbanites, particularly in Long Island, and office workers who are no longer coming into the city regularly.

Add to that the fact that shows are more expensive to produce and that theatergoers are continuing to buy tickets closer to the day of the show — a habit that increased post-pandemic and which means productions have lower advances and therefore less money in the bank — and the next several weeks can be trying for new shows trying to find an audience.

“It makes everything a bit more white knuckle,” DeVito said.

The Tony Award nominations offer some potential forward momentum for shows, but with the number of productions in contention this year, using “Tony nominated” as a marketing tool may not have the same impact it once had. For example, there are more than a dozen possible contenders in the best musical category this year — due to some earlier in the season openings, including Back to the Future — which could result in five nominees or up to seven if there is a two-way or three-way tie for the last slot, as well as many nominees in the acting categories and beyond.

A larger boost may come from the televised Tony Awards broadcast on June 16, and the chance to perform numbers from the productions. But even here, the individual awards may matter less than the fact of putting Broadway back in front of a national audience, says Tracy Geltman, general manager at ticketing app TodayTix.

“To me, if the Tony Awards elevate the brand of Broadway, and it shows people that these performances matter and this is special, then that’s where I think they’re a value,” Geltman says.

Until then, productions are becoming more creative with their marketing tactics, with Lempicka launching a campaign that allows theatergoers to purchase tickets via text, Stereophonic making all of its tickets $40 for its first preview and Suffs having co-producer Hilary Clinton make television appearances on behalf of the show.

While the season is filled with productions competing for the attention of the changing audience, Geltman notes that it may also provide insight into what’s next in the theater world.

“It’s a really incredible time to see what audiences are going to respond to and what the future of the theater might look like,” Geltman says.

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