525,600 minutes — how do you measure a year? Amid the holiday bustle, the Rent lyric always makes an appearance as we reflect on another year gone by. Maybe it was daylights, sunsets, midnights, or cups of coffee. Maybe it was how many times you listened to RENT according to Spotify. As things wind down and wrap up, we’re looking back on the most memorable Broadway moments that measure 2023.
The Phantom of the Opera Plays Its Final Broadway Performance
On April 16, the iconic chandelier fell for the final time during the closing performance of Broadway’s longest-running musical, The Phantom of the Opera. In its 13,981 performances at the Majestic Theatre, the Andrew Lloyd Webber juggernaut drew in more than 20 million audience members and grossed over $1.3 billion. Just three months earlier, the Tony Award–winning musical celebrated its 35th anniversary, complete with a custom cake created by chef Jürgen David (a self-described “superfan”), a special-edition Playbill, and a cast-led rendition of “Happy Birthday” during the curtain call. While there is a production currently playing in London, audiences lamented the end of the musical’s era on Broadway, looking to the “Finale” lyrics for closure: “It’s over now, the music of the night.”
Wicked’s 20th Anniversary
Speaking of long-running shows, Broadway’s fourth longest-running musical, Wicked, celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Gershwin Theatre in October. The swankified milestone reunited many Elphaba and Glinda alums, including original Broadway cast members Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. October 30, the official anniversary day, was proclaimed as National Wicked Day. The musical even hosted two special Glinda and Elphaba performances on October 29 — the matinee dubbed the “Pink Performance” and the evening show dubbed the “Green Performance,” both featuring special-edition Playbills. Just like Elphaba in Oz, those looking at the Manhattan skyline could have exclaimed “It’s all grand and it’s all green!” as the lit-up Empire State Building joined in on honoring the musical’s milestone. The celebration also included an outpouring of memories from fans and former cast members alike on social media about how Wicked changed them “For Good.”
The Tony Awards
It’s safe to say the 2023 Tony Awards ceremony was one for the books. From the day of the nominations (May 2), it was clear it would be a memorable Tony Awards season, as it was the same day that the Writers Guild of America went on strike. Typically, the awards’ opening number and presenter banter are written by WGA members, and after the Tony Awards’ petition to be exempt from the strike was denied by the WGA, both parties came to the agreement that the broadcast could proceed as long as nothing was written by WGA members. With no script leading the way for the June 11 ceremony (hosted for the first time at the United Palace Theatre, uptown in Washington Heights), theater folks did what theater folks do best: communicate via music, dancing, and their own storytelling.
May 2 also marked the day that Alex Newell (Lulu in Shucked) and J. Harrison Ghee (Jerry/Daphne in Some Like It Hot) made history as the first nonbinary actors to ever be nominated for Tony Awards. It was a powerful moment of nonbinary representation as the industry continues to expand its understanding of and conversation about gender. The two actors further made history by winning their respective Tonys: Best Featured Actor in a Musical and Best Lead Actor in a Musical. Ghee dedicated their Tony Award win to their “trans, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming” siblings, and Newell said in their acceptance speech, “I should not be up here, as a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts. To anyone who thinks they can’t do it: You can do anything you put your mind to.”
Larissa FastHorse’s Broadway Debut Marks the First Native American Woman Playwright on Broadway
When Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play premiered at Second Stage’s Hayes Theater in March, she became the first known Native American woman playwright to have a show produced on Broadway. Though, in an interview with Playbill, the Sicangu Lakota playwright mentions, “I assume there have been others, but for various reasons — for safety, for government assimilation policies — people hadn’t identified that way in the past.” Lynn Riggs is the only other known Native American playwright to have had work produced on Broadway, including Green Grow the Lilacs, the play on which Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is based. FastHorse’s satirical comedy, which follows four well-intentioned white theatermakers who gather together to create an elementary school Thanksgiving pageant, addresses performative wokeness and the erasure of Indigenous voices.
Neo-Nazi Protesters at Parade
February 21 marked the first preview of Parade, the Jason Robert Brown–Alfred Uhry musical that quickly transferred after its successful run at New York City Center in January. That night, outside of the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, members of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Movement handed out flyers and condemned patrons for seeing the show. The musical follows the 1913 trial and imprisonment, and 1915 lynching, of Leo Frank, a Jewish man living in Georgia. Tony winner Ben Platt, who was nominated for his portrayal of Frank, shared a video on social media, stating: “It was definitely very ugly and scary but a wonderful reminder of why we’re telling this particular story and how special and powerful art, and particularly theater, can be. And just made me feel extra, extra grateful to be the one who gets to tell this particular story and to carry on the legacy of Leo.”
Ragtime’s 25th Anniversary Reunion Concert
“It was the music of something beginning … the people called it ragtime!” The lyrics of Ragtime’s opening number encompass the energy that the Tony Award–nominated musical brought when it premiered on Broadway in 1998. Based on the 1975 novel of the same name written by E.L. Doctorow, the musical takes place in New York City and New Rochelle at the turn of the century. With a Tony-winning score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and a Tony-winning book by Terrence McNally, the staying power of the musical seems to lie in the soul-stirring music and the continued relevance of the story. More than a century later, the topics discussed in the musical are still present in America’s political landscape, including racism, immigration, and capitalism. On March 27, the Entertainment Community Fund hosted a sold-out, one-night-only reunion concert featuring nearly the entire original Broadway cast, including Brian Stokes Mitchell, Peter Friedman, Lea Michele, and Audra McDonald, who won a 1998 Tony Award for her performance as Sarah. Notably missing was the late Marin Mazzie, who played Mother in the original cast. She, and the other company members who have passed away, like McNally and Tony-nominated director Frank Galati, were honored during the night. The audience roared with cheers throughout the entire celebration, with the electricity from the stage — particularly during McDonald’s and Mitchell’s scenes — buzzing all over the Minskoff Theatre.
Here Lies Love Marks First All-Filipino Cast on Broadway
One decade after its Off-Broadway premiere at The Public Theater, Here Lies Love transferred to the Main Stem. Written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, the musical follows “former Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos’s astonishing rise to power and subsequent fall at the hands of the Philippine People Power Revolution.” When it began previews at the Broadway Theatre on June 17, before its July 20 opening, Here Lies Love made history as the first Broadway show to feature an all-Filipino cast. Tony winner Lea Salonga, also a producer on the show, returned to the Broadway Theatre as Aurora Aquino, 32 years after she made her Broadway debut on the same stage in Miss Saigon. Arielle Jacobs led the cast as Imelda Marcos, while Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora reprised their roles as Ferdinand Marcos and Ninoy Aquino, respectively. The musical also became the center of conversation regarding live musicians. The Broadway production had planned to use pre-recorded music tracks, like its previous productions, which was in violation of the Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians (the musicians union)’s agreement with the Broadway League, which requires 19 musicians to play live music for a musical production at a Broadway theatre. The two parties came to an agreement that the show would have 12 musicians, including three actor-musicians.
The World Premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s Final Musical, Here We Are
Nearly two years after the passing of legendary musical-theater composer Stephen Sondheim, his final musical had its world premiere at The Shed in New York City. Based on two Luis Buñel films, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel, the musical Here We Are (featuring a book by David Ives) has been in the works since at least 2012. In 2016, both a reading and a workshop were held at The Public Theater, but no production came to fruition. Directed by Joe Mantello, it boasts an all-star cast of Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannavale, Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Jin Ha, Rachel Bay Jones, Denis O’Hare, Steven Pasquale, David Hyde Pierce, and Jeremy Shamos. Though Off-Broadway, it marks the third Sondheim musical to currently be in production in New York City, following Sweeney Todd, which opened in March, and Merrily We Roll Along, which opened in October.
The Jonas Brothers have taken Broadway by storm, announcing…
The Jonas Brothers Concerts
Gen Z Disney fans rejoiced when the Jonas Brothers announced a five-night Broadway residency in March at the Marquis Theatre. Each night was dedicated to one of the Grammy-nominated group’s five albums: It’s About Time; Jonas Brothers; A Little Bit Longer; Lines, Vines, and Trying Times; Happiness Begins; and The Album. The singing trio, made up of brothers Joe, Kevin, and Nick, even threw a party at The Stranger for their fellow Broadway performers at the end of their residency. Youngest brother Nick has been in numerous Broadway shows, including Beauty and the Beast, Les Misérables, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
From Stage to Screen
The stage wasn’t the only place to find Broadway talent this year. The return of Apple TV+’s Schmigadoon in April offered a new era of musicals to explore. Dubbed Schmicago, season two of the musical parody series from Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio lovingly spoofed 1960s and ’70s musicals like A Chorus Line, Annie, Cabaret, Chicago, Godspell, Pippin, and Sweeney Todd. There were many familiar Broadway faces who returned from season one, like Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, and Aaron Tveit, with Tituss Burgess and Patrick Page getting added to the mix.
In August, season three of Only Murders in the Building premiered, with the entire season built around the process of producing a Broadway show — and solving any corresponding murders along the way. Broadway vets like Gerald Caesar, Ashley Park, and Wesley Taylor stepped into the spotlight this season.
Audiences learned how Rydell High’s famous girl gang was created in Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, which was released on Paramount+ in April. The prequel to Grease paid many tributes to the original movie musical, and featured actors who had been onstage before, including Shanel Bailey, Tricia Fukuhara, Jackie Hoffman, and Cheyenne Isabel Wells.
On the big screen, audiences experienced Broadway musicals through filmed captures of live productions. Titanic the Musical was presented in more than 700 movie theatres nationwide by Fathom Events and BY Experience to celebrate the 26th anniversary of the Broadway production and the 10th anniversary of the show’s London premiere. Also in partnership with Fathom Events was Bleecker Street’s presentation of Waitress: The Musical, which just hit movie theatres this month. Starring the Tony-nominated musical’s composer-lyricist, Sara Bareilles, the production was filmed on stage in 2021 after its post-pandemic reopening at Broadway’s Barrymore Theatre.
As far as film adaptations of stage musicals, The Color Purple will be released on Christmas Day, featuring plenty of Broadway alums, like Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, and Colman Domingo. Disney’s The Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey, had plenty of musical-theater minds involved, though it is technically a live-action adaptation of the 1989 animated film. Original Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken returned to write new music alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda, with Rob Marshall (Oscar-nominated for his direction of the 2002 film adaptation of Chicago) as director.
Broadway has long drawn in artists from other disciplines, whether it be screen actors or pop artists. This year, Broadway saw a host of debuts from such artists. In April, pop singer JoJo (known best for her 2004 hit “Leave (Get Out)”) began her 14-week engagement to shine bright like a diamond as Satine in Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Casey Cott, known for The CW’s Riverdale, later joined the Tony-winning musical as Christian. In September, pop singer Betty Who headed way down to Hadestown as Persephone. Elle Fanning just made her Broadway debut acting alongside Sarah Paulson in Branden Jacob-Jenkins’s Appropriate at Second Stage in November. D’Arcy Carden, beloved for her characters in television series like A League of Their Own, Broad City, and The Good Place, made her debut in Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, also at Second Stage.
Theater Censorship in Schools
Both theater and school are the sites of education. For many, the theatrical education they get in middle school and high school are hugely instrumental in building their foundation as artists and humans. In 2023, there were several stories about censoring theater in schools that amassed national attention.
One hundred years after the Broadway cast of God of Vengeance was indicted due to the play’s depiction of two lesbian women kissing, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida, canceled their planned production of Paula Vogel’s Indecent — the play that recounts the censoring of God of Vengeance. Though the principal cited it was due to “mature content,” students pointed out the connection to the state’s recently passed “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The playwright even offered to attend the production and moderate a talkback.
A month later, the Lansing Board of Education voted to remove The Laramie Project from classrooms. Based on a true story, the 2000 play, written by Moisés Kaufman, follows the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was attacked because of his identity. In response to the decision, the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Tectonic Theater Project wrote an open letter to the students in Lansing, Kansas, offering free copies of the script.
In November, trans student Max Hightower was cast as Ali Hakim in his high school production of Oklahoma! in Sherman, Texas. Later, he was told that he would no longer be able to perform the role, as students could only play roles that matched their sex assigned at birth. The school board voted that all students would be able to keep their original roles, and Sherman High School was to put on a production that followed the original script, not an abbreviated “youth” version.
It’s never easy to say goodbye to those we love or whose artistry has had an impact on us. There were many people who helped shape Broadway in some way who have now passed on, including Harry Belafonte, Sheldon Harnick, Glenda Jackson, Ron Cephas Jones, and Tina Turner, just to name a few.
Belafonte, a trailblazing entertainer and civil rights activist, was well-known for his “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” He also won the 1954 Best Featured Actor in a musical Tony Award for his Broadway debut in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.
Harnick, who died at age 99, was a legendary lyricist. With his composer partner Jerry Bock, they created some of Broadway’s most memorable scores, including for Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me.
Emmy, Oscar, and Tony winner Jackson not only was a distinguished actor, but also served 23 years in the British Parliament. After stepping down in 2015, she returned to the Broadway stage in the 2018 production of Three Tall Women — winning her first Tony Award.
Known to many for his Emmy-winning performance in This Is Us, Jones was also a profound theater actor. He picked up a 2022 Tony nomination for his work in Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s.
The talent and prowess of Turner were just two attributes that many fans loved about her. Known as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, she garnered her own bio-musical — TINA – The Tina Turner Musical — which earned a 2020 Tony nomination. The Broadway opening was one of Turner’s final public appearances.
We lift up all of those who passed away this year, thankful for their service and dedication to our industry.
Broadway Direct looks forward to all the new memories we’ll make in 2024!