The Rising Credibility of the 90-Minute Musical

I was wrong.

It happens.  A lot.  

I enjoy it now.  I didn’t enjoy it when I was in nineteen and I was an arrogant idiot male who thought he knew more than he did. (Sorry, Mom.)

I enjoy it now because I know when I’m wrong, I’ll learn something.

And that’s what happened the other day when a creative team and I were discussing the 90-Minute Musical.  

I questioned whether the public as well as critics, voters, etc. considered 90-Minute Musicals as serious musicals.  I mean, I knew and KNOW that 90-Minuters are very popular (as is anything shorter these days).  But I also believed that they had an aura of being, well, a “diet-musical” or musical-lite.

My specific thesis?  

A 90-Minute Musical has less of a chance of winning a Tony Award for Best Musical than full length, traditionally structured, musical.

So, I went to the data to prove my point.  

I looked at the last 30 years of Tony Award winning Best Musicals to see how many 90-Minute Musicals (or one-actors) won the big prize . . . if any.

Here’s what I found:

  • In the ten years between 1991-2000, there was ONE 90-Minute Musical that won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
  • In the ten years between 2001-2010, there were ZERO 90-Minute Musicals that won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
  • In the ten years between 2011-2020, there were TWO 90-Minute Musicals that won Tony Awards.


Yep, 90 Minute Award Winning musicals are on the rise big time . . . with 20% of the last decade’s winners having only one act, and a 90ish-minute running time.

Now, some of the increase of winning 90-Minuters over the last 30 years is because TheaterMakers are writing more of them.  

But you can’t deny the trend.    (And if you add my Best Revival winning 90-Minute Once on this Island to the list, the trend is even more obvious.)

And so . . . once again . . .  I was wrong.

BUT . . . 

My incorrect thesis led me to another interesting fact about those winners.  Let’s look at the list of the three musicals in the 30 years that were one act that won.

They are:

  • Passion
  • Fun Home
  • The Band’s Visit

Spot another trend?

These shows all have a similar “feel”.  They are more “serious” in nature.  I wouldn’t call any one of them a Musical Comedy.  Three of them are love stories where the boy and girl you expect to end up together don’t end up together!  They are all entertaining (not to mention brilliant) musicals.  But they are not Kinky Boots, Spamalot, Avenue Q, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Moulin Rouge, or some of the other winners in these 30 years. 

The takeaway?  90-Minute Musicals are officially popular with everyone.  There is no “diet musical” feel.  That said, you might need a musical that has more serious tones to overcome that sentiment.

And now that I’ve said that . . . watch this season closely . . . because Six could prove me wrong again.

If you are TheaterMaker yourself and looking for more data on how your shows stack up against the market, or strategies on how to get your show to stand out, or produced, you’d like my “secret blog” – click here to sign up for it.

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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.