My Top 10 Biggest Broadway Moments of 2014
There are just a few hours left in the 15th year of the 21st century. And, as with all years, there have been ups and downs, and even a few sideways. And while I’m a guy that likes to focus on what’s ahead instead of the what just happened (you can’t change the past, but you can change the future), every year at this time I look back over the past 365 days to highlight what I think were 10 of Broadway’s biggest and most significant moments.
Are you ready for ’em?
Here they are, in no particular order.
1. A NEW OWNER AT NEW WORLD
Broadway mega power, the Shubert Organization, announced they’ll be expanding their empire by purchasing the most significant piece of Off Broadway real estate around, the five stage New World Stages. The Shuberts are the largest landlord on Broadway, and now they are the largest landlord Off Broadway. This could be the steroid shot that commercial Off Broadway needs to jolt it back to its healthier days.
2 BOBBY LOPEZ IS AN EGOT
I remember seeing a 20 minute version of Avenue Q back in the late 90s and meeting the 20 something cherubic composer who wrote all those catchy yet smart melodies. Time travel forward and there he is on the Oscar stage, becoming only the 12th person to hit the award grand slam and join club EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) thanks to his mammoth hit, Frozen. What’s cool is that Bobby got his start on Broadway, and is still dedicated to Broadway (click here to see his TEDxBroadway talk). Oh, and he’s only 39 years old so to quote another EGOTer, the best is yet to come.
3. THE LION KING ROARS INTO THE HISTORY BOOKS WITH BILLIONS
Anytime Broadway makes national news it’s a good thing (even Spider-Man helped out our marketing cause). But when a Broadway show gets headlines in the business sections like The Lion King did when it announced that it had taken in more at the box office than . . . well . . . than any other entertainment property (including all your favorite movies), it’s just plain awesome. This kind of success says, “Hey, Broadway is big business. Sure we’re risky, but when we hit it square on the face, nothing can beat our success.” This press release easily poured millions of dollars in investments into our game. And that’s always a good thing.
4. IT’S ONLY A PLAY IS NOT JUST ONLY A HIT
I remember reading It’s Only A Play just over a year ago and just loving how it celebrated and spoofed the Broadway world. While everything I knew about Broadway said it was going to be a hit, I never imagined that it would be the hit that it is. Why not? Well, I wondered if what I loved so much about it, which was all that inside Broadway stuff, would be universally appealing enough to achieve massive mainstream success. I knew our usual playgoers would go crazy for it, and they’d make it a hit . . . but to get to grosses of well over a million a week, you need more than just playgoers. The success of the show proved that people love hearing “inside baseball” stories about Broadway, especially when told by Broadway stars. People love our world, we just have to give it to ’em. It’s why I’ve got my eye on Something Rotten! in the coming six months.
5. WHO SAYS YOU NEED SPECTACLE TO BE A SUCCESS?The story of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is one for the books. No stars, no spectacle, just quality, theatrical (one great actor playing several roles) storytelling. Like any underdog, this show struggled at first, and then boom . . . when those nominations came out, the tides turned and GG hasn’t looked back. Turnarounds like this deserve to be celebrated (partly because of the inspiration they provide to writers all over), which is why the show makes my list this year.
6. BROADWAY GETS ROCKED BY TRANSGENDER.
Speaking of unlikely successes on Broadway, I first saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch Off Broadway in the late 90s and fell in love with that odd looking diva as she belted her tomatoes out at the Jane Street theater. The show ran awhile but never recouped, and was avoided by the mainstream theatergoers. It was too “weird,” for popular success, was the conventional thinking. This year, that rock-and-roll bitch opened on Broadway with Neil Patrick Harris and blew the roof off the Belasco, and the roof off old fashioned Broadway success. To have a hit like Hedwig is a victory for Broadway and for people like Hedwig all over the world. Some people might say, “It was only a hit because of Neil.” Sorry, bud, the fact that it’s still running, two stars later, is a testament to the story. Hedwig has arrived, and has been accepted.
7. THE BIGGEST PRODUCTION OF MY ENTIRE CAREER.
I got married. Ok, so it’s wasn’t a Broadway production, but it was the biggest show I’ve ever produced . . . even though I didn’t get final say on the costumes, the theater location, or the script. 🙂 But on this show, I have the best partner anyone could ask for.
8. LIVE TELECAST MUSICALS ARE FLYING
Peter Pan may not have had the ratings success of The Sound of Music but it still got singing, dancing and a Broadway musical on the minds of millions of potential (young) theatergoers. And its success means there are more telecasts to come. These live productions may be the biggest and best audience development we have . . . since Disney burst on our scene with Beauty and the Beast. So even if you don’t love the telecasts, don’t worry about it, they are not produced for you. They are produced for the next generation of you.
9. INVESTING ONLY IS THE THINGBroadway Producers of the year, Howard and Janet Kagan, opened the online doors to Broadway investing and got a whole slew of new folks that had never been investors before to sign up. Why hadn’t these investors invested before? They didn’t know how. The Kagans got the word out, and got some more money into our business. Oh, and then the show they raised money for was a hit. The Kagans got some slings and arrows for raising Broadway funds this way, but they won’t be the last ones to do it, I promise you that.
10. ANOTHER BROADWAY SUCCESS . . . ON A BIG SCREEN
The telecast of Peter Pan made this list because of how it attracted young people to what we do. Into The Woods is my last entry this year for the opposite reason. To have an adult, serious, Sondheim musical become the Hollywood hit that it is (and be a quality movie at the same time), says, “Hey, moviegoers, isn’t this great? You should take in a Broadway show more often, whether that’s here in NYC or on tour in your hometown!” And just wait until the attention the movie (and therefore the Broadway show) gets at the Academy Awards. And another musical movie’s success means the studios will greenlight more . . . and more. That gives us Producers a greater chance at recoupment, because of the potential downstream revenue, which decreases risk for investors, which allows Producers to take greater artistic risk . . . which is great for our art. Ah, the circle of life.
That there is my list of my Top 10 Broadway Moments in 2014. What was your favorite moment? Favorite show? Comment below!
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.