Broadway Beyond New York: The International Appeal of the World's Most Famous Theatre Destination
Broadway extends far beyond Manhattan. Through extensive touring productions, shows like 'Wicked', 'The Lion King' and 'The Phantom of the Opera' enthral audiences around the world. This international exposure can impact local economies and bring in large sums of money for playwrights and producers. Learn more about the global effect of Broadway shows below.
Economic Impact of Broadway
Broadway theatre is an economic powerhouse. In the week ending 28 January, 2024, this sub-industry generated nearly $25 million in sales, with 'MJ the Musical', 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' and 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' among the greatest earners.
Touring Broadway shows are also big business. According to the Broadway League, these productions made $18.5 million in sales during the 2018-2019 season. Popular shows often travel across North America and beyond after debuting on Broadway, allowing local audiences to be part of the action.
In its Broadway Theaters whitepaper, the New York City Department of Labor says:
"Over the past decade, ticket sales to touring Broadway shows have increased by a total of $752 million, or 85.4%. Similarly, attendance at touring Broadway shows has increased 4.2 million, or 29.4%, over the same time frame."
You can see the influence of Broadway on the theatre industries of other cities and countries. 'The Lion King', which opened in NYC in November 1997, now plays in theatres across North America. It also entertains audiences in Spain, France, Germany, Japan, Brazil and the United Kingdom. Touring shows often bring in larger ticket sales than local productions.
Broadway has long been an American art form. However, the globalised economy led to shows appearing in theatre districts across the globe — especially musicals.
David Savran from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center said:
"In the twenty-first century, these new Broadway-style musicals have become the preeminent transnational theatre form, whose conventions have also been absorbed into both popular and elite theatrical entertainments around the world."
One example of the power of Broadway is the Israeli version of 'Chicago', which debuted at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium a few years ago.
Journalist Yakir Feldman, writing for 'The Jerusalem Post', said at the time:
"Living in the Middle East, we Israelis don't get to see shows on Broadway as frequently as we might like. So luckily, Broadway brings some of its best to us."
Bringing Broadway shows to international theatre markets is sometimes a substantial undertaking. Producers have to collaborate with local theatres, while show creators must establish licence agreements allowing international venues to host productions.
Tailoring Broadway Shows for Local Audiences
Theatre producers regularly adapt their shows for venues in different cities and countries. This process might include creating sets that are easier to transport to different locations or scaling down other elements of multimillion-dollar productions. Often, local adaptations of Broadway shows have tighter budgets and play in smaller theatres, especially those in North America.
That's only sometimes the case, though. The Broadway version of 'The Lion King' plays in the Minskoff Theatre, which has a capacity of 1,692 seats. On the other hand, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts — in Costa Mesa, California — can show 'The Lion King' to 3,000 guests.
Producers might also tinker with a Broadway show's format or story arc to appeal to global audiences. For example, some songs in the Chinese version of 'The Phantom of the Opera' include different lyrics than the original Western version. The Chinese adaptation also features more than 40 local performers with opera and musical backgrounds.
Of course, not all producers tailor their shows to the local audience. When 'Les Misérables' debuted in Japan, audiences had little understanding of Christianity, 19th-century romanticism or other elements of the original Broadway production. The show was a success despite cultural differences.
Bringing International Culture to Broadway
Broadway consists mainly of shows that premiered in Manhattan's Theatre District or originate from London's West End theatre scene. However, a growing number of productions have influences from non-Western cultures. 'Aladdin the Musical', for instance, plays at the New Amsterdam Theatre and has Middle Eastern music. 'In The Heights' showcases Latin American culture.
This cultural exchange might have strengthened Broadway's appeal. Shows with international themes and influences are among the most popular productions in the district, and they help establish Broadway as one of the best destinations for live entertainment.
That said, there's still an appetite for Broadway shows that tell distinctly American stories. 'Hamilton', one of the most successful musicals of all time, focuses on the life of Alexander Hamilton — one of the founding fathers. Other popular productions that highlight American culture and history have included 'The Color Purple', 'Oklahoma!' and 'West Side Story'.
Broadway has broken down geographical boundaries, with shows like 'The Phantom of the Opera' and 'The Lion King' playing to audiences in far-flung destinations. These productions contribute to local economies and bring new narratives to local audiences.
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