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From The Founder: Some startling statistics on Broadway Musical Adaptations vs. Original Shows.

Written by Ken Davenport 

One of my more popular blogs over the years was this ol’ chestnut from back in 2008 (!) about adaptations on Broadway, and specifically the number of movies being turned into musicals.

I was prepping for a conversation with an agent recently about the challenges of totally original new musicals versus musicals based on something (a book, a movie, a catalog of music, etc., that gives you a marketing head start because of the pre-existing brand), so I decided to dig a little bit deeper through the annals of adaptation history on Broadway.  It’s easy to say things are riskier or have a harder time gettin’ off the ground.  It’s another thing to have data to back it up.

Here’s what I discovered:

  • In the past 30 years, 82% of the new musicals on Broadway were adaptations.  Only 18% were totally original.
  • The average run of an adaptation in the last 30 years is 644 performances.
  • The average run of an original musical is only 331 performances, about half of the adaptation average.
  • Of the original musicals produced in the last 30 years, 30% were open for less than a month.
  • 7 of those musicals closed in one week or less.
  • 83% of all of the Best Musical Tony Award winners in the past 30 years were adaptations.

Pretty scary stuff, isn’t it?

There’s no question that producing a totally original new musical on Broadway is a much riskier endeavor than a show based on some sort of pre-existing brand.  Not only does it help with marketing, but I believe that source materials help the authors create a show with a stronger foundation.  And since the majority of our shows have multiple authors (composer, lyricist, book writer, etc.), it’s so helpful to have some sort of story and characters to start from.  Adaptations have blueprints.  You can remodel along the way, but they give you a strong starting point.

Does that mean you should only invest in or produce shows that are adaptations?


Heck, I produced one a few years ago.

If you had hard and fast rules like “only adaptations” you’d have missed little shows like, oh, Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon.

So what do you do with statistics like this?

With every project I produce or invest in, I calculate the level of risk involved on a scale of 1 to 5, and then I make sure the economic model works within that risk.  Higher-risk projects need more reasonable budgets and partners that will take less upfront for more later on if you’re fortunate enough to get there.

So don’t let greater risk scare you.  Let it force you to come up with a model that works.


Looking for a community of theatermakers creating both adaptations and original material? Look no further than our TheaterMakers Facebook Group with over 1,300 theatermakers.


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