Unless you're a Broadway theatre historian, you might now know that July 12th, 2017 marks a very important date. On that day in 1947 the play, Life with Father, closed on Broadway. The show had opened in late 1939 and ran for 7 1/2 years, racking up 3,224 performances during that time. Since it's closing, the play had become the longest running non-musical in Broadway history. While I fully expect that Phantom of the Opera will be surpassed as the longest running musical, I don't think Life with Father's record will ever come close to being broken, and that's because today's business of Broadway would never allow it to happen. Because a long running play is something that is becoming rarer and rarer these days.
Last week, there was a lot of news about the fact that A Doll's House Part 2 was going to be extended beyond its original 16-week engagement through January 7th, 2018. While the current cast is only contracted until the end of July, producer Scott Rudin has said that he hopes that they will extend. Although he is prepared to recast if necessary, especially given star Tony-Winner Laurie Metcalf's role with the Rosanne reboot.
But not all plays this season are going to enjoy a post -Tony run. Just a couple of days ago both Indecent and Sweat announced their closing later this month. While it's unfortunate that these great plays are closing so soon, it's not surprising when you consider how short of runs plays usually have on today's Broadway. So why is that?
Well in many cases, plays are a part of fixed runs within seasons with theatre companies such as Roundabout, Lincoln Center and the Manhattan Theatre Club, so a long run of the show was never really up for possibility to begin with. Productions of Jitney and Noises Off! are examples of this.
Also while tickets for plays might be cheaper, the budgets for these shows are still high. Even with smaller casts, less crew, etc, these shows still cost millions so there is a heightened financial risk which is why short runs are more beneficial.
Then there is the fact that many of these shows are star-vehicles, and when the stars' contract runs out and they depart the show, ticket sales tend to decline. So it's sometimes wiser to just close the show rather than try to forge ahead.
So what would it take for a play to break Life With Father's record? Tough to say. Given who typically buys tickets to shows, I would think it needs to be a piece that attracts the tourist crowd. No offense to Paula Vogel, but Indecent would never pull in that type of crowd. Getting to 1,000 performances would have been near impossible much less 3,225. I think the only play that has a shot right now of even getting to four digit performances would be The Play That Goes Wrong, but it's a long shot.
Safe to say that Life With Father's record is safe for years to come.