Why Broadway Needs More Non-Musicals

Anthony J. Piccione

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist
  • @A_J_Piccione

On September 4th, Broadway will undergo a brief period of time, in which there will be only one non-musical that is still running on Broadway. Following the closings of An Act of God and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Humans – the recent winner of the Tony Award for Best Play – will be the only show left on Broadway that is not a musical.

It should be noted that this period will be very brief, as the closings that I refer to will be followed by quite a few other shows opening that same month. So this isn’t to say that this is something we can expect to last for a lengthy amount of time.

Nonetheless, I still believe that this is worth bringing up, due to the fact that it has come to this point at all. I believe it is reflective of an issue that I’ve often talked about in past columns: The ratio of musicals vs. non-musicals that are being produced on Broadway, and the lack of great plays that are given the chance to be seen and appreciated as much as shows such as Hamilton or Phantom or The Lion King or The Book of Mormon.

The only way issues such as this get resolved is if there are people out there who keep discussing it and thinking about it over and over again. So, in light of recent events, I feel that it’s important for me to speak out again, and to provide an explanation over why this should be viewed as such an important issue for Broadway theatre.

Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Cassie Beck, Sarah Steele and Arian Moayed in the play “The Humans.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Cassie Beck, Sarah Steele and Arian Moayed in the play “The Humans.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

There are many talented playwrights out there that are writing great plays that deserve to be seen by a wider audience. One could argue that there might be more of them that are actively seeking to be produced on Broadway, if only there wasn’t a perception out there that Broadway tends to lean more toward musicals, with non-musical plays rarely getting the chance to be seen on Broadway, compared to the amount of musicals that are on Broadway. I could be wrong, but I would think that if more Broadway theaters took a chance on non-musicals, there would be more playwrights out there that would be willing to try and put their work out there for such consideration. That’s what I would argue, based on what I’ve personally heard during past conversations with playwrights.

Even when you put aside the people that are actually writing these plays, let’s just take a look at some of the variety of plays that often are sent to producers, some of which may contain stories that aren’t often seen on Broadway enough. It’s true, many of the plays that are sent out to producers or literary managers for consideration may be horrible. Still, quite a few of them may be great, innovative works that – while they might be commonly seen off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway – are not commonly produced on Broadway. So if there’s even a chance that some of these non-musicals might have some degree of commercial appeal, why not take a chance on more of them?

Furthermore, some of these stories that I’m referring to could potentially be more suited for a non-musical script, as opposed to a script that incorporates music and dance into it. Sure, it may be fun to see some stories we are familiar with be adapted into a musical production. However, I have a hard time believing that EVERY story that has ever been written is best told through musical theatre. Indeed, for every Phantom or Les Miserables or The Lion King there has been, there have also been many more musical adaptations of great plays, films, etc. – which ultimately went on to be embarrassing flops – that seem to prove my point.

Finally, there is something that producers might especially be willing to consider, I would think: Musicals aren’t necessarily for everyone. I think we need to be honest about the fact that there are some potential theatergoers out there who we might not be reaching, simply on the basis that they aren’t huge fans of musical theatre, and that they perceive Broadway – and rightly so – to largely be geared toward musicals. If we want to reach more potential theatergoers who might not otherwise be interested, why not put on more shows that they might actually be interested in seeing?

Don’t get me wrong: I love musicals, and I most certainly am not saying they should cease to be produced on Broadway. That would, of course, be just as ridiculous as what we have now. Having said that, I also would personally like to see more of a variety of shows to choose from on the larger stages in New York, and – although film and music and many other artistic mediums seem to show more variety, even on the commercial side – I don’t necessarily know if the same can be said for Broadway theatre. I wish I could say otherwise, but if I didn’t think this was an issue worth discussing, I wouldn’t have been inspired to write this column.

I hope that this is something that people will think about, and I welcome any further discussion or opinions that people may have on this topic. However, I think my views on this topic are clear, and I don’t intend to stop talking about this until I feel more progress is being made on this issue. I hope that day will come soon, and I do have reasons to believe that MAYBE it will. (I may or may not address those in a future column.) But for now, I hope more attention can be drawn to this issue, so that the likelihood of that day coming grows even more…

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).