Understanding Broadway Plays: Defining the Criteria for Inclusion

Broadway, the heart of New York City’s theatre district, is synonymous with world-class entertainment. But what makes a play a Broadway play? Is it the cast, the production value, or the location? In this article, we will explore the criteria that define a Broadway play, from its origin to its impact on the industry. Get ready to uncover the secrets behind the Great White Way and discover what it takes for a play to earn the title of “Broadway show.”

What is a Broadway Play?

Historical Definition

Origins of Broadway

Broadway, located in the heart of Manhattan, has been the center of American theater for over a century. The term “Broadway” is believed to have originated from the broad roads that led to the settlement of the Dutch colony in New Amsterdam, which later became New York City. Over time, the area evolved into a hub for entertainment, hosting vaudeville shows, music halls, and other forms of popular entertainment.

Transition from Vaudeville to Contemporary Theatre

As cinema began to rise in popularity, vaudeville theaters struggled to stay relevant. However, a new form of theater emerged that would come to define Broadway as we know it today. In the 1920s, a wave of sophisticated, well-written plays began to hit the stage, marking the transition from vaudeville to contemporary theater. Notable plays from this era include “The Front Page” by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and “The Fantasticks” by Tom Jones. These plays were characterized by their witty dialogue, complex characters, and intricate plotlines, setting the standard for Broadway plays to come.

Contemporary Definition

Eligibility Criteria

In contemporary times, a Broadway play is defined as a live theatrical production that meets specific eligibility criteria to be considered for performance in a Broadway theatre. These criteria include:

  • The play must be written by a recognized playwright or have obtained the rights to a published work.
  • The play must be a full-length production, typically consisting of at least two acts.
  • The play must be designed for a live audience and performed in a theatre with at least 500 seats.
  • The play must be produced by a recognized and legitimate producing organization, such as a theatre company or production studio.

Evolution of Genres and Formats

The definition of a Broadway play has evolved over time to encompass a wide range of genres and formats. From traditional dramas and comedies to modern musicals and experimental works, the diversity of Broadway productions reflects the ever-changing tastes and interests of audiences and artists alike. As a result, the eligibility criteria for inclusion on Broadway have expanded to accommodate new forms of expression and artistic innovation. Today, Broadway plays continue to push the boundaries of theatrical storytelling, while remaining true to the core values of live performance and audience engagement that have defined the Broadway experience for over a century.

The Importance of Broadway Plays

Cultural Significance

Broadway plays have long been considered an integral part of American culture. They reflect the social, political, and economic issues of the time and provide a platform for artists to express their creativity and ideas. Many iconic plays have become a part of American history and continue to be performed and studied years after their debut.

Economic Impact

Broadway plays have a significant economic impact on New York City and the surrounding areas. They generate millions of dollars in revenue each year and provide employment opportunities for actors, musicians, technicians, and other professionals. The success of a Broadway play can also have a ripple effect on the surrounding industries, such as tourism and hospitality.

Artistic Significance

Broadway plays are not only important for their cultural and economic impact, but also for their artistic significance. They showcase the talent and creativity of actors, playwrights, directors, and designers, and push the boundaries of what is possible in live theater. They inspire and challenge audiences, and provide a unique and unforgettable experience that cannot be replicated in any other medium.

In conclusion, Broadway plays are an essential part of American culture and have a significant impact on the economy and the arts. They provide a platform for artists to express themselves and for audiences to experience something truly unique and special.

Types of Broadway Plays

Key takeaway: Broadway plays are a vital part of American culture and have a significant impact on the economy and the arts. They come in various forms, including musicals, straight plays, revivals, and revisals. Producing a Broadway play requires a significant investment of time, money, and resources, and the industry must continuously adapt to changing times by embracing new technologies, fostering diversity and inclusion, and expanding the boundaries of traditional genres and formats. The future of Broadway plays depends on overcoming economic challenges, competing with alternative media, and maintaining quality and artistic integrity.


Definition and Characteristics

Musicals are a subgenre of Broadway plays that incorporate music, singing, and dance into the narrative. They typically tell a story through a combination of spoken dialogue, song lyrics, and choreography. Musicals often have a larger cast of characters than straight plays, and the performers are required to have strong vocal and acting abilities.

Notable Examples

Some notable examples of musicals that have been performed on Broadway include:

  • “Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • “The Phantom of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • “Cats” by Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • “Les Misérables” by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
  • “The Lion King” by Elton John and Tim Rice

Differences from Straight Plays

Musicals differ from straight plays in that they incorporate music and dance into the performance. The use of music and dance can help to convey emotions and advance the plot in a way that spoken dialogue alone cannot. Additionally, musicals often have a larger cast of characters and more elaborate set designs and costumes than straight plays.

Straight Plays

Straight plays, also known as dramas or plays with no music, are live theatrical performances that consist of scripted dialogue and action. These plays typically focus on the development of characters and their relationships, as well as the exploration of themes and ideas. Straight plays may be based on real events, historical figures, or works of literature, or they may be entirely original works of fiction.

Some notable examples of straight plays include Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” These plays have been performed on Broadway and in theaters around the world, and have become classics of theatrical literature.

Differences from Musicals

Straight plays differ from musicals in that they do not include music or singing. While musicals often feature elaborate song and dance numbers, straight plays rely solely on dialogue and action to tell their stories. Straight plays may also be performed with different levels of formality, ranging from highly stylized and experimental productions to more traditional and realistic stagings.

Despite their differences, both straight plays and musicals are important genres of Broadway theater, and are enjoyed by audiences around the world. By understanding the unique characteristics and criteria of each type of play, we can better appreciate the diversity and richness of the theatrical experience.

Revivals and Revisals

Definition and Purpose

Revivals and revisals are two distinct types of Broadway plays that serve different purposes and involve different processes. A revival is the act of bringing back an old play to the stage, while a revisal is the process of updating or reinterpreting a play that has already been produced.

Revivals are often seen as a way to celebrate the legacy of a classic play or to introduce a new generation of theatergoers to an old favorite. They can also serve as a way to showcase the talents of contemporary actors and directors by offering them the opportunity to put their own spin on a well-known work.

Revisals, on the other hand, are often driven by a desire to update the content or style of a play to make it more relevant to contemporary audiences. This can involve changes to the script, music, or staging, or even a complete overhaul of the play’s themes or message.

There have been many notable revivals and revisals of Broadway plays over the years. Some examples of successful revivals include “The King and I,” which was revived in 2015 with Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe in the lead roles, and “Cats,” which was revived in 2016 with a new design and direction.

Examples of successful revisals include “Les Misérables,” which was revised in 2014 to include new staging and a revised orchestration, and “Miss Saigon,” which was revised in 2017 to include a new set and costumes.

Challenges and Controversies

Revivals and revisals can be challenging and controversial for a variety of reasons. One challenge is balancing the need to update a play for contemporary audiences with the need to stay true to the original vision of the playwright. Another challenge is finding the right balance between honoring the legacy of a classic play and bringing something new and fresh to the production.

Controversies can arise when revivals or revisals are seen as disrespectful to the original work or when changes are made that are seen as unnecessary or inappropriate. For example, some critics have argued that the recent revisal of “Miss Saigon” was an attempt to “whitewash” the play and make it more palatable to Western audiences.

Overall, revivals and revisals are important ways to keep Broadway plays relevant and engaging for contemporary audiences, but they require careful consideration and execution to be successful.

Production and Business of Broadway Plays

Producing a Broadway Play

Financing and Investment

Producing a Broadway play requires significant financial resources. Typically, producers rely on a combination of personal funds, investments from third-party investors, and loans to finance the production. In some cases, producers may also seek out partnerships with established theater companies or producers to help offset the costs of production.

Creative and Logistical Challenges

Bringing a Broadway play to life involves overcoming numerous creative and logistical challenges. From casting and rehearsals to set design and costume creation, producers must carefully manage a wide range of creative and logistical aspects of the production. In addition, producers must navigate the complexities of working with unions, negotiating contracts, and managing schedules.

Marketing and Ticket Sales

Effective marketing is critical to the success of a Broadway play. Producers must create compelling marketing materials, such as posters, trailers, and website content, to attract audiences to the show. In addition, producers must develop strategies for ticket sales, including setting prices, creating discount programs, and utilizing social media and other online platforms to promote the show.

Overall, producing a Broadway play requires a significant investment of time, money, and resources. Producers must navigate a range of creative and logistical challenges while also effectively marketing the show to attract audiences and generate ticket sales.

Broadway as a Business

Ticket Prices and Revenue

Broadway plays are a significant source of revenue for the theater industry, with ticket sales generating billions of dollars annually. The cost of tickets varies depending on the popularity of the show, location, and time of year. Popular shows can command premium prices, while less popular shows may offer discounts or special promotions to attract audiences. The average ticket price for a Broadway show is around $100, but can range from $25 to over $300 per ticket.

Economic Impact on New York City

Broadway plays have a significant economic impact on New York City, with the industry generating billions of dollars in revenue each year. The theater industry supports a wide range of businesses, including hotels, restaurants, and transportation companies, which in turn create jobs and contribute to the city’s economy. In addition, Broadway plays attract millions of tourists to the city each year, providing a significant boost to the local tourism industry.

Labor and Employment

Broadway plays employ a large number of people, including actors, musicians, technicians, and support staff. The industry provides jobs for thousands of people, both in front of and behind the scenes. In addition, Broadway plays also contribute to the local economy by providing employment opportunities for New York City residents. The industry also provides a significant source of income for actors, musicians, and other performers, who can earn a living wage while performing on Broadway.

The Future of Broadway Plays

Adapting to Changing Times

Embracing Technology

  • Integration of multimedia elements in theatrical productions
  • Use of advanced lighting and sound systems
  • Enhanced backstage operations through automation

Diversifying Cast and Crew

  • Increased representation of minority groups in both on-stage and behind-the-scenes roles
  • Fostering a more inclusive and diverse environment in the industry
  • Encouraging collaborations between different cultures and artistic styles

Expanding Genres and Formats

  • Experimentation with non-traditional narratives and storytelling techniques
  • Incorporation of various art forms, such as dance and music, into theatrical productions
  • Exploration of different formats, including immersive and interactive experiences

In order to remain relevant and engaging, the world of Broadway plays must continuously adapt to changing times. This involves embracing new technologies, fostering diversity and inclusion, and expanding the boundaries of traditional genres and formats. By doing so, the industry can not only stay afloat amidst the rapidly evolving cultural landscape but also thrive and continue to captivate audiences for years to come.

Overcoming Challenges

Economic Challenges

The economic challenges facing Broadway plays are numerous and significant. The high cost of producing a Broadway show, coupled with the uncertainty of ticket sales, makes it difficult for new shows to recoup their investment. In addition, the rising cost of living in New York City, where most Broadway shows are produced, has led to increased production costs. These economic challenges have led some producers to take risks by investing in shows with less proven track records, while others have opted to invest in more established properties with a higher likelihood of success.

Competition from Alternative Media

Broadway plays face stiff competition from alternative media, such as streaming services and movies. With the rise of streaming services, audiences now have access to a vast library of content from around the world, making it more difficult for Broadway shows to attract audiences. Additionally, the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards streaming, as audiences have become accustomed to watching shows from the comfort of their own homes. This has made it even more challenging for Broadway shows to compete for audiences’ attention and loyalty.

Maintaining Quality and Artistic Integrity

Maintaining quality and artistic integrity is a challenge that Broadway producers must confront in order to ensure the longevity of the industry. As with any art form, the quality of Broadway shows is subjective and can vary greatly. However, there are certain standards that must be met in order to maintain the reputation of Broadway as a whole. Producers must carefully consider the artistic vision of each show and ensure that it is executed with the highest level of quality and attention to detail. This requires a significant investment of time, money, and resources, but is essential to maintaining the reputation of Broadway as a premier destination for live entertainment.


1. What is considered a Broadway play?

A Broadway play is generally defined as a play that is produced in one of the theaters located in the Theater District of New York City and is a part of the Broadway League. These plays can range from classic plays that have been around for decades to brand new productions that are just making their debut. In order to be considered a Broadway play, a production must meet certain criteria set by the Broadway League, such as having a minimum number of performances and a certain level of ticket sales.

2. What are the criteria for a play to be considered a Broadway play?

There are several criteria that a play must meet in order to be considered a Broadway play. First and foremost, the play must be produced in one of the theaters located in the Theater District of New York City, which is generally considered to be the area between 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue, and from 40th Street to 54th Street. Additionally, the play must meet certain minimum requirements for the number of performances and ticket sales, as set by the Broadway League. These requirements vary from time to time, so it’s best to check with the Broadway League for the most up-to-date information.

3. How is a Broadway play different from a off-Broadway play?

Off-Broadway plays are similar to Broadway plays in that they are produced in New York City, but they are not produced in one of the theaters located in the Theater District. Off-Broadway plays may be produced in smaller theaters located in other parts of the city, or they may be produced in larger theaters that are not located in the Theater District. Off-Broadway plays may also have fewer performances and lower ticket sales than Broadway plays, and they may not be as well known or as highly regarded as Broadway plays.

4. Can a play be considered a Broadway play if it is not produced in New York City?

No, a play cannot be considered a Broadway play if it is not produced in New York City. While there may be other theaters and theater districts in other cities, a play must be produced in New York City in order to be considered a Broadway play. This is because the term “Broadway” is specifically associated with the theater district of New York City, and it is used to refer to the highest level of theater production in the United States.

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