Bigger, Brighter, Better? Making the Broadway Leap of Faith

Emma Gordon

In the evolution of a piece of theater, a play or a musical, there is almost always one goal: Broadway. There is a dream that the piece could eventually make it to the top of the theater game and have a chance to see its name in lights. Countless shows have made that fortunate journey from off or off-off Broadway to the ‘big leagues’ like Jonathan Larson’s “Rent.” But does this jump help or hurt a production? What happens to a show when it moves from a small, intimate space to the 1000+ audiences of the Great White Way?

There are various pros and cons for a small show making the leap from small to large, and often the move could work for one production and not for another.

One factor is the show’s budget. Unless the original production has wealthy producers already, there would likely be a significant budget difference between the off and on Broadway runs. While one may think getting a lot of money for a production is fantastic, sometimes this harms the show in the long run. Producers run the risk of putting too much money towards making the show big and lavish and Broadway-worthy. Where this could bring a new and exciting tone to the show, it could also damage the unique quality the show holds beforehand. When Finding Neverland transferred from the A.R.T. in Cambridge, Massachusetts to the New York scene with a much larger budget to play with, many of the show’s original, quirky features, such as a human actor playing Barrie’s dog, were lost to actual animals and a much more lavish set. Despite the success of the initial run in Cambridge, the Broadway run lost fervor and gained poor reviews.

Another consideration of the big move is space. Unless a show has the unique situation of starting out in a relatively large off-Broadway house, chances are the original house the production played in was relatively small. Making the move to one of the many theaters in Midtown could potentially be the key a production needs to open up and take a show to new levels. On the other end of the scale, the move up could take away the intimacy the show once held. Often the beauty of an off-Broadway show is the almost direct contact or interaction an audience has with the players and the story being told. Where “Hamilton” thrived when it made its leap from the Public to The Richard Rogers, “Eclipsed,” which was also at the Public before moving uptown, almost seemed too small for the larger space the Golden had to offer.

With various shows having the opportunities to move onto Broadway stages, including “Dear Evan Hanson,” which makes the move this fall, whether a show becomes successful on Broadway truly depends on the show itself and how the team navigates the move. There are some shows that are simply meant for the small intimacy of an off-off Broadway house, and there are some that are destined to shine on Broadway, but it all boils down to how the production shapes up when new resources come into play.

Nevertheless, Broadway is fantastic, and most of what’s produced along the glittering marquis is incredible, but tucked into every crevice of this city are theaters that are just dying to house new work as well. There’s theater everywhere, so it’s an adventure to see what the next big thing will be!

Email Emma Gordon at [email protected]

Check out the rest of the Arts Issue here.

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