Which Shows Have Had the Most Broadway Debuts?

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By: Dec. 26, 2022

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This month, the reader question was: "Which shows have had the most Broadway debuts?"

For the purpose of this question, let's limit our exploration to performers in Broadway productions of the past 100 years only.

The amount of Broadway debuts trends upwards for productions with casts that are younger, that feature underrepresented communities, that transfer directly from other countries, and/or that require special skills, such as cheerleading, that are atypical for Broadway. Since Broadway productions had a higher average number of cast members a century ago, shows closer to 1920 than 2020 also tend to have a higher amount of Broadway debuts.

Here are a few notable examples.

Which Shows Have Had the Most Broadway Debuts?
Scene from Bring It On


In the summer of 2012, the spirited Bring It On stage musical hit the St. James Theatre, boasting 30 Broadway performer debuts. Of the show's 35 cast members, 30 of them were appearing on Broadway for the first time, including Ariana DeBose, Jason Gotay, Taylor Louderman, Ryann Redmond, and Adrienne Warren.


Press about the event noted that the Jesus Christ Superstar revival, seen the previous season at the Neil Simon Theatre, had 23 actors making their Broadway debut, within a cast of 29.


Fast-forwarding to 2020, the revival of West Side Story that opened shortly before the COVID-19 shutdown featured 33 Broadway debuts in its opening night cast of an overall cast of 49. Many thought it had set the record for most Broadway debuts in one production, but read on...

Which Shows Have Had the Most Broadway Debuts?
Scene from West Side Story


Looking farther back on Broadway for notable debuts within one production, the original production of Merrily We Roll Along featured 21 debuts when it opened in 1981. The show's concept involved having young performers, and for several, this was not just their Broadway debut but their first professional theatre contract.


In 1988, Sarafina! a South African musical presenting a stance against apartheid, had 22 debuts in a cast of 23; Only one actor had been on Broadway before. Sarafina! premiered in Johannesburg and most of the cast transferred with the production, representing South Africa on Broadway with their show and also with interviews they gave about the current state of their country.


In 1977, another South African musical, Ipi-Tombi, was the last show to play Broadway's Harkness Theatre before it was demolished. This one featured 25 Broadway debuts; Everyone in the cast-who first completed an international tour starting in South Africa and Nigeria-was making their Broadway debut.


The 1981 Broadway premiere of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a direct transfer of the Royal Shakespeare Company from the UK, contained 39 Broadway debuts in a cast of 42. Only leading man Roger Rees and two other actors had previously appeared on Broadway.


The first-ever Polish musical on Broadway, Metro, delivered 44 Broadway debuts-every single cast member-when it opened at the Minskoff in 1992. The cast of Polish performers came directly from Warsaw to present this show about young people who decide to live in subway tunnels and put on a show about their lives.


Similarly, the 1964 cast of Rugantino, a direct transfer from Rome, featured an Italian cast, none of whom had been on Broadway before, resulting in 45 Broadway debuts in a cast of 46. While the show closed quickly on Broadway, it has been a huge hit in Italy, including a 1998 revival that boasted a long run and almost transferred yet again to New York.


Fernando Martino, the sole Broadway veteran in the cast of Rugantino, had appeared previously in Cabalgata, a 1949 production at the Broadway Theatre. Cabalgata was billed as "Broadway's First Spanish Revue", with "a company of 100". While only 46 cast members are listed on the internet Broadway database, it does appear that all made their Broadway debuts with the show.


This season, KPOP wowed audiences at Circle in the Square with its 18 performer Broadway debuts, within a cast of 22 members. Lack of AAPI performer representation on Broadway otherwise was pointed to as part of the equation in accounting for KPOP's many debuts.

Which Shows Have Had the Most Broadway Debuts?
Scene from KPOP


In 1991, Miss Saigon had 27 Broadway debuts among its opening night cast.


Four Saints in Three Acts, the 1934 Gertrude Stein- Virgil Thompson musical with an all-Black cast, had 36 Broadway debuts in a cast of 46.


While its Broadway opening was technically 101 years ago, Shuffle Along, the landmark musical of 1921, must be mentioned. 9 of Shuffle Along's 42 performers had been on Broadway before, making for 33 Broadway debuts. The show was groundbreaking in many ways, among them the achievements of its four Black creators, Eubie Blake, Aubrey Lyles, Flournoy Miller, Noble Sissle, who made a hit musical against great odds. In doing so, they gave opportunities to many Black performers who may not have made their Broadway debuts otherwise. A Trip to Coontown, the first full-length Broadway musical to be exclusively written, performed, directed, and produced by Black artists, gave similar opportunities to Black performers in 1898.

There were several musicals created by Black artists that hit Broadway in the decade after Shuffle Along, sometimes with one of its team members involved, which also gave debuts to a significant number of Black cast members. For example, The Chocolate Dandies, writers Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle's 1924 follow-up to Shuffle Along, featured 85 cast members, 13 of whom had been on Broadway before, making for 72 Broadway debuts. While The Chocolate Dandies only ran for 96 performances, it made Broadway history.

Chocolate Dandies does hold the record for the past 100 years at 72 Broadway debuts, as far as our research goes. That said, there have been many Broadway productions from the last century with a comparable number of debuts to the productions mentioned in this article; These are just a few notable highlights.

The Hot Mikado and The Swing Mikado, competing adaptations of the Gilbert and Sullivan work which both hit Broadway in 1939, each boasted dozens of Broadway debuts and featured BIPOC artists on stage. All five Broadway productions of The King and I have had a significant number of Broadway debuts, partially due to the lack of AAPI representation on Broadway that contributed to the number of debuts in KPOP and Miss Saigon as well.

The revues Artists and Models, Earl Carroll's Vanities, and The Ziegfeld Follies had multiple editions featuring gigantic casts full of Broadway debuts in the decade before the Stock Market Crash. Also featuring large numbers of debuts were Rodgers and Hart's spectacular Jumbo at the Hippodrome; the original play Merrily We Roll Along; the 1943 Oscar Hammerstein II-Georges Bizet hit Carmen Jones; the 1933 play Run, Little Chillun; the first musical at what is now Studio 54, Rainbow; Fine and Dandy, which was the first Broadway musical ever fully composed by a woman, Kay Swift; and several shows that comprised the last sigh of romantic operettas on Broadway in the 1920s.

There have been 129 Broadway productions in the last 100 years that have included over 70 cast members, and many of those have been chock full of Broadway debuts.