The April crush of Broadway is nearly upon us, and this year it’s crazier than ever. Theater lovers are accustomed to having a rush of shows opening in the early spring, in the final weeks of the traditional theater season, but 2015 has been especially lopsided. No fewer than 15 shows are set to open in the three-week span from April 2 through April 23. That number represents nearly 40 percent of the entire 2014-15 Broadway season.
In other words: If you have friends who are theater critics—and, in fairness, why would you?—don’t expect to see much of them for a while.
The increasing April madness can largely be boiled down to two words: Tony Awards. Just as the film industry saves many of its most serious movies for December, just before the cutoff date for Oscar eligibility, so theater producers try to cram their shows into the season as late as possible while remaining eligible for Broadway theater’s biggest prize. The Tonys don’t just offer prestige and bragging rights; they can also give shows, especially musicals, a boost at the box office. And Tony voters, as a general rule, have fairly short memories; shows that open—or, God forbid, close—in the fall tend to be at a disadvantage.
But the time frame keeps getting narrower. In 2008, the cutoff date for Tony eligibility was May 8; in 2009 it leaped forward to April 30, and it has inched up by a day or two every year since. This year’s explosion of openings is unusually dense—perhaps the densest season’s end in Broadway history—but it's part of an overall trend. This chart, culled from information on the Internet Broadway Database, offers a rough idea of how that trend has evolved in the past 50 years.
Note that this chart includes shows that opened in May as well as April, and that, even so, the density has risen notably. In retrospect, one major turning point was probably 1977, when the Tonys moved from April to June—and, the next year, from ABC to CBS. (Note also that the numbers are not 100 percent precise, since IBDB's listings include concerts and special events.)
This may not seem very important to anyone but theater critics. Who else, after all, will be seeing all these shows? But that’s part of the problem: Virtually no one can keep up with what’s happening on Broadway when the field is so crowded. There's not enough room for everyone. Shows that could get a decent amount of press and publicity any other time of year are bound to get lost in the process.
So consider this a memo, dear producers: Think about opening your shows earlier next year. Try March! This year, for example, only one musical, On the Twentieth Century, opened in March—versus nine musicals that will open in 16 days in April. It might also behoove the Broadway League to take a firmer hand, if possible, in guiding producers toward a more staggered approach to programming. If they don’t, the traffic jam is only likely to get more staggering.
Meanwhile, here is a list of the 15 productions opening in the weeks to come. Good luck, April shows! Let’s see who will make it to June.
April 2: Skylight, John Golden Theatre
April 7: Hand to God, Booth Theatre
April 8: Gigi, Neil Simon Theatre
April 9: Wolf Hall, Parts 1 & 2, Winter Garden Theatre
April 12: An American in Paris, Palace Theatre
April 14: It Shoulda Been You, Brooks Atkinson Theatre
April 15: Finding Neverland, Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
April 16: The King and I, Vivian Beaumont Theater
April 19: Fun Home, Circle in the Square
April 20: Living on Love, Longacre Theatre
April 21: Doctor Zhivago, Broadway Theatre
April 22: Something Rotten!, St. James Theatre
April 23: Airline Highway, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
April 23: The Visit, Lyceum Theatre