This season seems like it is bringing more ambitious productions to Broadway than ever before. If you thought that the creative geniuses of the world would take a break after last year’s Broadway juggernaut, Hamilton, took the world by storm, you were wrong. This season is breaking more records, bending more rules, and setting more standards than ever before.
There are several “firsts” on Broadway in the 2016-2017 season, making even the smallest of shows highly ambitious productions. In Transit, by Frozen co-composer, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, is Broadway’s first a capella musical. Simon McBurney’s The Encounter delivers individual headsets to each member of the audience to use during the show. Oh, Hello brings the comedy of Nick Kroll and John Mulaney to the Broadway stage in a show that incorporates more unscripted improv than any previous Broadway play.
The large musicals with dazzling sets seem to be getting larger and more dazzling. Paramour marks the Broadway debut of Cirque du Soleil and brings with it the high-flying acrobatics expected from the Canadian circus company. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, a new musical starring Josh Groban, has turned the design of a Broadway theater on its head by removing audience seats to build a stage which runs through the entire theater and instead placing those seats on the stage.
Even revivals are proving to raise the bar this year. The revival of Sunset Boulevard, starring Glenn Close, will feature 40 on-stage musicians in its orchestra. This size is not record breaking, the 1935 production of Porgy & Bess featured 42 musicians, but it is close.
Getting a show to Broadway is no easy task, and only the most ambitious productions have what it takes to make it on the Great White Way. Producers rarely choose to gamble on a project without any track record. We instead prefer to produce pieces which have already had successful runs outside of New York, or those written by well-known playwrights. This season, Lucas Hnath makes his Broadway debut as a playwright with his play A Doll’s House, Part 2, which has had no prior productions, and therefore no track record. In the past ten years, there are only two or three instances of unknown playwrights making their Broadway debuts with a piece that has its world premiere on Broadway.
The ambitious productions on stage this season are paving the way for artists with even more ambitious plans to showcase their work in the years to come. The bar keeps getting higher and higher on Broadway, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Oliver Roth is the founder and CEO of OHenry Productions, a theatrical production company based in New York City.