This is the eighth and final part in an 8-part series that looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process.
Epilogue: Openings, Evaluations, and Show Quality Standards
Present your project to your audience, allow them to experience it, and evaluate its success and effectiveness over time.
A common first type of opening for a Broadway show is the “out-of-town” tryout or preview. As David Cote explains the The Grimmerie:
“The out-of-town tryout is a time-honored ritual for the Broadway musical. In the tryouts, a show’s creative team can test the product out on audiences and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Tryouts can be exhausting but valuable periods in which the team fine-tunes a hit. Shows can literally be saved out of town, as the book writer feverishly tweaks scenes that don’t work or gags that fall flat. The composer, meanwhile, might find inspiration and pen a new song that goes on to be the show’s big hit.”
Following these types of preview openings, the shows are evaluated and tweaked, changed, and rewritten before moving to a main stage opening on Broadway. Once a show has been in production, minor changes to staging, lighting, and choreography take place as cast members change and producers looks for ways to save money and extend the show’s lifespan. If a show spawns a traveling production (which has happened with both Wicked and Hamilton), minor changes occur as needed to accommodate the different theaters in which the show is staged.
Wicked’s “out-of-town tryout” was at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, officially opening on June 10, 2003 and running through June 29. The show’s reception was mixed, and several songs were changed and portions of the book were rewritten based on the feedback and reviews that followed. Interviewed years later, Schwartz recalled that “The show was well enough received that no one was panicking or feeling it was a disaster–no throwing of bathwater or babies… It was clear there was work to be done and revisions to be made in the book and the score. The critical community was, frankly, very helpful to us. We learned a lot from the reviews, which were honest and constructive in the aggregate, unlike New York, where the critics make up their minds before they come to the theatre.”
Wicked opened on Broadway three months later on October 30, 2003 at the Gershwin Theatre and it has remained there since. Wicked is one of the most successful shows in Broadway history, and there have been several other North American and International productions of the show.
Hamilton officially opened for previews at the The Public Theater in New York in February 2015. The production was extended twice, eventually ending in early May of that year. Following the preview, Miranda rewrote portions of some songs and the book, but the show remained largely the same when it moved to its current home at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in August 2015. The show has been a huge success, receiving extremely positive critical reception and having unprecedented box office sales. A Chicago production officially opened in October 2016, and the first US national tour began in March 2017, with a second tour set to begin performances in 2018.
Previous Imagineering Broadway installments:
Thoughts? Reactions? Love it? Hate it? Please let me know in the comments!