The road to the famed Broadway, as any writer, composer, or librettist will tell you, is not an easy one. It may seem as though shows like Hamilton and Wicked were destined for fame and were simply born on Broadway. But no show has not gone through Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, or remote productions first. And even before these shows were performed for the first time, enlisting people to cast pro bono and persuading others to invest in them is a whole other feat that may be disregarded by aspiring writers. In a very basic outline, here is how to get your latest musical or play on the big stage.
Given the way Broadway is run today like any business, its first and foremost priority is to make money. Broadway will only put on shows if it thinks it can profit from it. Because of this, even if writers, composers, and librettists think their musical or play is the next Phantom of the Opera, many of them spend years and countless hours writing works with no promise that they will ever be produced. In fact, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote his first musical, In the Heights, for 10 years before it was first produced. Art takes time to perfect.
After you’ve written your piece, then most musicals or plays go into the workshop phase. During these workshops, the play or musical is still being edited. The lyrics, choreography, music, and every other aspect of the work may be critiqued and fixed. This gives the creative team time to see what they’ve written down on paper performed in realtime. It is important to remember, however, that the purpose of the workshop is to prove to investors that your project is worthy of their money, so the workshop production should be as good as possible before it is shown to potential investors.
Some workshops can be performed in their own self-produced stages by casting people they know for free to play their characters, using minimal costume and set design, do your own publicity, and sending out invitations to agents and producers. These can also be performed in small cabaret venues like the Duplex on Christopher Street in Manhattan (See Stereotheque’s article on the 9 (Best) Places to Start Your Career as a Performer in New York City). Composer Danny Goggin did this exact thing. He started his international hit Nunsense as a one-act cabaret show at the Duplex before a producer optioned it, allowing the musical to be performed thousands of times Off-Broadway.
In an Off-Broadway production, the project is oftentimes sponsored by nonprofit theatre companies such as New York Theatre Workshop and is much more expensive to produce. Everyone in the production is paid and salaries, budgets, royalties, benefits, and other costs are also being considered. Off-Broadway productions seat 100-499 audience members while Broadway productions seat over 500 people. The fate of an Off-Broadway production will, however, guarantee a spot on Broadway. Although some works do such as Peter and the Starcatcher, some shows will run a healthy production Off-Broadway, close, and then be performed elsewhere and then years later go to Broadway.
But not all shows have to first be produced in New York to make it to Broadway. Any show can be produced and performed first in your local town or at a big venue in Washington DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, or anywhere else and then transferred to Broadway. In fact, the classic Les Misérables was first produced and performed in France in 1980, then in 1985, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a production in London before it made its Broadway debut in 1987. In summation, there is no one way for a show to make it to Broadway.
The most important thing to remember when writing, producing, and getting your show performed is to write what is important to you, to tell the story you want to tell. As Lin-Manuel Miranda said in an interview with Qz.com, “You know, your goal is to just make something that feels as true to what you set out to do as possible.” Your goal should not be success or fame or money; your goal should be to speak your truth.
Below, watch an interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the greatest composer and directors of musical theatre.