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Photograph: Courtesy Liz Lauren

Let me tell you—Broadway in April is too damn crowded

Too many shows get jammed into April, and we've got the data to prove it.

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman

“Let Me Tell You” is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They are published every week.

If you think Times Square is crowded now, just wait until April.

Broadway seasons run from May through the eligibility cutoff date for the Tony Awards, which is on April 25 this year. There’s always a glut of shows toward the end of the season, as productions race to open in time. But in recent years, this trend has gotten out of control. This year’s schedule is, to put it plainly, absurd.

Thirteen Broadway shows—no one’s idea of a lucky number—are currently slated to open in April. That represents a third of the 39 new productions in the entire 2023–24 Broadway season (and that’s including a one-week run of the magic show El Mago Pop). But what’s really bananas this year is how densely the openings are packed: 11 of those 13 shows will open in the very last nine days of the season, jockeying for attention in a mad dash to the finish line between April 17 and April 25.

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Water for Elephants
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew MurphyWater for Elephants

That’s not just a problem for theater critics—though it is obviously not ideal for critics to turn out so many reviews so quickly, without the time we usually get to evaluate the shows as fairly and thoroughly as they deserve. It’s also a problem for audiences, and for the shows themselves.

But before we go any farther, let’s take a side trip into the weeds. It makes sense to ask a basic question: Are Broadway seasons really getting more bottom-heavy, or does it just seem that way? I decided to crunch some numbers to see if the conventional wisdom was based in fact. The short answer is: Yes, it is. But here, since I’ve done the work, is a longer answer. 

This chart, based on information from Broadway’s official database, offers a rough idea of how the April crush has evolved since 1977, when the Tony Award ceremony moved from April to June. It is tricky to compute the percentage of a Broadway season that is smooshed into the end, because the markers keep shifting; for example, the 2008 cutoff date for Tony eligibility was May 8, but in 2009 it leaped up to April 30, and it has inched even earlier since. So this chart includes shows that opened in May as well as April, a choice designed to expand the percentages in earlier years. But even though May openings have now nearly disappeared, the average proportion of Broadway shows to open in those two months together has still climbed steadily through the years:

Broadway shows opening in April and May (1977 to 2024)
Graphic: Adam Feldman

I also ran the numbers, somewhat more precisely, on the percentage of Broadway shows to open in the final month of their seasons since 2000. The trend line for this second chart tells much the same story, rising from about 27% at the start of the century to nearly 35% today:

Broadway shows opening in final month of season (2000–2024)
Graphic: Adam Feldman

Even starker is this final chart, which shows the number of Broadway shows that opened in the final ten days of their seasons in the past four decades. Although this year’s tally of 11 is the highest on record, it is consistent with the steep overall rise of the trend line:

Broadway openings in final ten days of season (2000–2024)
Graphic: Adam Feldman

So yes, this problem has been getting significantly worse. And it’s not just the time frame that’s overcrowded this season: It’s the field itself. A staggering 14 new musicals will compete this year for the five Best Musical slots at the Tony Awards—the most new musicals in decades, and that’s not counting Melissa Etheridge’s concert show or the season’s six musical revivals. (The difference can be confusing: Here Lies Love is reportedly contending as a new musical while another show with an Off Broadway history, Gutenberg!, is being called a revival.) It’s hard for anyone to keep up with so many offerings, and that problem is exacerbated by the end-of-season stampede. Shows that might get a decent amount of traction at other times of the year are sure to get trampled.

Why is this happening? There are countless variables in every season, and much of the timing depends on when venues become available: Attendance has been moving back toward pre-pandemic levels, and producers are eager to get a foothold whenever they get a chance, but there are only 40 Broadway houses—not counting the Palace, which is currently under renovation—and they tend to get snapped up quick these days. Just a week after Harmony announced that it was leaving the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Patriots announced it was moving in. As of this writing, 38 of the 40 houses are spoken for in April; only the Majestic (still airing out after 35 years of Phantom) and the Belasco (which How to Dance in Ohio just announced it is vacating) are unclaimed, and there is still time for someone to swoop into either. 

The eagerness is understandable, but collectively it feels excessive. Theater audiences are still in the process of returning, and Broadway’s lopsided schedule is at risk of overwhelming them. And does opening in time for the Tonys really help if you are among the many shows shut out of nominations in a too-busy year? Yes, sales can dip in the summer when locals leave town. But the whole model could stand some adjusting. There's a widespread perception that opening in April is important, but of the 20 most recent Best Musical winners at the Tonys, more than half did not open any time in the spring: Hairspray, Avenue Q, Hamilton and Moulin Rouge! opened in the summer; Jersey Boys, Spring Awakening, Billy Elliot, Memphis, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Dear Evan Hansen, The Band's Visit and Kimberly Akimbo were all fall shows. Ditto for many of the longest-running non–Best Musical winners of this period, such as Wicked, Beautiful, Mamma Mia!, Mary Poppins, School of Rock, Movin' Out—and, for that matter, the longest-running holdovers from before 2000: The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King and the Chicago revival. April openings are not correlated with success in a way that justifies the extreme inclination toward them.

The Great White Way doesn’t have a central planning authority, so it’s hard to know how to deal with this problem—except by talking about it and helping to shift the conventional wisdom. Producers! Hear my plea! The drift to late April has gone too far. It would behoove you to take a more staggered approach to programming. If you don’t, the traffic jam will only get more staggering.

Maleah Joi Moon and the cast of Hell's Kitchen
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusHell's Kitchen

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