Have Many Shows this Season Premiered Long Before Broadway?

Jennifer Ashley Tepper Is answering your questions with Broadway Deep Dive!

By: Apr. 28, 2024
Have Many Shows this Season Premiered Long Before Broadway?
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Do you have a burning Broadway question? Dying to know more about an obscure Broadway fact? Broadway historian and self-proclaimed theatre nerd Jennifer Ashley Tepper is here to help with her new series, Broadway Deep Dive. Every month, BroadwayWorld will be accepting questions from theatre fans like you. If you're lucky, your question might be selected as the topic of her next column!

Submit your Broadway question in the comments here!

This time, the reader question was: Have a lot of shows this season had a long time between their first productions and Broadway premieres?

While new plays and musicals are often in development for many years before reaching Broadway, it is somewhat rare for there to be many years between a show’s pre-Broadway premiere and Broadway production. The pandemic pause and subsequent show backlog made a longer pause between a show’s initial production and Broadway bow more common. This dynamic is still affecting Broadway the 2023-2024 season.

Last week, I saw the new Broadway production of Amy Herzog’s extraordinary play Mary Jane, directed by Anne Kauffman at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theatre. Rachel McAdams plays the title character, a mother with a toddler who has a life-threatening condition. McAdams is making her Broadway debut, surrounded by a cast of fellow actors who portray various women in Mary Jane’s life from caretakers to mothers in similar situations to even a Buddhist nun. McAdams delivers a stunning performance in the show, which first premiered in 2017 at Yale Repertory Theatre. That same year, Mary Jane was presented at New York Theatre Workshop starring Carrie Coon. So, there were seven years between Mary Jane’s premiere and Broadway production.

Are there other shows this season that experienced a significant number of years between their premieres and their Broadway bows? 

Three. Back to the Future: The Musical opened on Broadway during the summer of 2023, after first premiering in Manchester, England in 2020. This 3 year gap is actually remarkably short given that the Manchester premiere was in March 2020, just days before theaters shut down entirely due to the pandemic. The show made its West End debut in 2021, as soon as theaters could reopen and transferred to Broadway less than two years later. Back to the Future, with its spectacular effects, including the DeLorean, thrillingly built for the stage, is a large production that could only have fit into select Broadway houses; getting the show from Manchester premiere to the Winter Garden in just over three years was actually a bit of a feat.

Have Many Shows this Season Premiered Long Before Broadway?
Scene from Grey House on Broadway

Four. Grey House, the first production to open in the 2023-2024 Broadway season, originally premiered in Chicago in 2019. The thriller by Levi Holloway had a different cast and creative team, including director Joe Mantello and cast members Tatiana Maslany and Laurie Metcalf, when it was seen at the Lyceum in summer 2023.

Six. When The Heart of Rock and Roll, the Huey Lewis and The News jukebox musical that recently opened at the James Earl Jones Theatre first played The Old Globe Theatre in 2018, the show starred Matt Doyle and Katie Rose Clarke. These lead roles were originated on Broadway by Corey Cott and McKenzie Kurtz, six years later. Further, the show audiences enjoyed in 2018 was set in present day—whereas the current Broadway version finds audiences transported to the 1980s, when a large number of the Huey Lewis and the News songs originally hit the airwaves.

Six. Like The Heart of Rock and Roll, Lempicka also had six years between its out-of-town tryout and Broadway premiere. The new musical about painter Tamara de Lempicka was first seen at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2018. A La Jolla Playhouse engagement followed in 2022, and the show hit Broadway at the Longacre Theatre earlier this year.

The shows named so far had three to seven years between their premieres and Broadway productions. By comparison, a decent amount of shows this Broadway season had less than one year between their premiere and their Broadway production, from Days of Wine and Roses (off- Broadway 2023, Broadway 2024) to Hell’s Kitchen (off-Broadway 2023, Broadway 2024) to The Great Gatsby (out-of-town 2023, Broadway 2024). While three to seven years between premiere and Broadway can certainly pose challenges for those involved, its not unheard of in any season. The following shows notably had even more years to wait…

Have Many Shows this Season Premiered Long Before Broadway?
Scene from Here Lies Love

Eleven. The immersive disco pop musical about Imelda Marcos, first lady of the Philippines, Here Lies Love, written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, was first seen in 2012 for a handful of workshop performances in Massachusetts, prior to the show’s 2013 off-Broadway premiere at The Public Theatre. Here Lies Love returned to the Public for an encore run in 2014, the same year that it also played London. A 2017 Seattle run attempted to adjust the show for a proscenium space, before Here Lies Love came to Broadway in 2023. The 2023 Broadway premiere starred Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora, who originated their roles of Ferdinand Marcos and Ninoy Aquino eleven years earlier. Arielle Jacobs played the role of Imelda, which was originated by Ruthie Ann Miles.

Eleven. The current Broadway revival of Merrily We Roll Along was first seen at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2012. Director Maria Friedman (who actually played Mary in the 1992 Leicester production of Merrily, which received a cast recording) conceived this 2012 revival, which transferred to the West End and received a pro-shot version that was broadcast in movie theaters. Friedman’s version of the show with a New York cast played off-Broadway in 2022 before receiving rave reviews at the Hudson Theatre in 2023.

Twelve. Appropriate, one of the most talked-about plays of the season, was first seen in 2011, more than a decade before its Broadway premiere at the Helen Hayes Theatre. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ family drama with a few unexpected twists was so well received that it moved to the Belasco Theatre for an extended run. Since Appropriate was seen in so many prominent productions between its 2011 Actors Theatre of Louisville premiere and its Broadway premiere, including a 2014 off-Broadway run, it has been deemed a revival rather than a new play for the sake of Tony Awards eligibility. 

Have Many Shows this Season Premiered Long Before Broadway?
Scene from Appropriate on Broadway

Eighteen. Gutenberg! The Musical! was first seen in a production as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2005. Prior to this, the satirical show about writers pitching a musical about Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, was developed at the Upright Citizens Brigade by its writers Scott Brown and Anthony King. Gutenberg! appeared again at NYMF in 2006, and transferred to off-Broadway for a full run. The musical comedy was licensed and received many regional productions—and did not necessarily have its sights on Broadway, given its two-hander nature. But Gutenberg! finally did make its way to Broadway in 2023, in a successful production that reunited original Book of Mormon stars Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad. Similar to Appropriate, because of the nature of the show’s prior productions, it has been deemed a revival in terms of Tony Award eligibility.

Twenty-six. That’s right, Harmony had twenty-six years between its premiere and Broadway debut, setting a record for this season. When the show chronicling the true story of the Comedian Harmonists premiered in San Diego in 1997, it received mixed reviews. With book and lyrics by Bruce Sussman and music by Barry Manilow, Harmony persevered. Before its 2022 New York debut off-Broadway at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (originally scheduled for 2020 but rescheduled multiple times because of the pandemic), the musical had a 2013 Atlanta production and a 2014 Los Angeles production. (A 2003 pre-Broadway Philadelphia production was announced and then canceled.) Finally, Harmony reached Broadway in 2023, and the moving collective memoir of a musical group in Germany with Jewish and non-Jewish members affected audiences at the Barrymore Theatre for several months. Chip Zien played the lead role of Rabbi at an older age for Harmony’s New York premiere and Danny Kornfeld played younger Rabbi, while in all previous versions of the show, the same actor played Rabbi at both ages. The role was originated by Danny Burstein in 1997.