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Stage Door: Where are the original musicals?

by Nathaniel R

Uh-oh... The Tony Awards last month wrapped up the 2018/2019 season with a reminder that original musicals were doing just fine (The Prom is getting a film version,  Hadestown remains a very hot ticket, and Tootsie has its diehard fans). Strangely, then, the 2019/2020 Broadway season is looking troubling from this distance. Of the six new musicals currently scheduled for the season NONE have original scores....


  • Moulin Rouge! (currently in previews, opening July 25th) uses pop standards like the movie did though not all of the same ones.
  • Freestyle Love Supreme (opening October 2nd) is more of a special event than a musical and has no score since its hiphop is improvised each night
  • American Utopia (opening October 20th) is an adaptation of David Byrne's album of the same name
  • Tina (opening November 7th) is a jukebox biography of Tina Turner.
  • Jagged Little Pill (opening Dec 5th) an original story set to Alanis Morrissette music
  • Girl from the North Country (opening March 5th) an original story using Bob Dylan music


Now it's rare to see a year with only 6 new musicals so you can expect at couple of more to be announced. But it's not good news for the artform or for one of the key Tony Award categories that there are still no original scores scheduled for Broadway this season. At least not yet. By way of comparison here's the past decade of Broadway seasons, the Tony Winners for Best Musical and Best Score, and how things shook out in terms of eventual quantity of originals that opened versus how many of them were 'jukebox musicals' i.e. using previously existing songs rather than new scores.

2019 Hadestown / Hadestown
11 originals, 3 of which were jukebox musicals
2018 The Band's Visit / The Band's Visit
7 originals, 3 of which were jukebox musicals
2017 Dear Evan Hansen / Dear Evan Hansen
13 originals, only 1 of which was a jukebox musical
2016 Hamiton / Hamilton
11 originals, 2 of which were jukebox musicals
2015 Fun Home / Fun Home
10 originals, 2 of which were jukebox musicals
2014 A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder/The Bridges of Madison County
12 originals, 4 of which were jukebox musicals. This is the only time in the past decade when the Best Musical winner was eligible for Best Score but didn't win. It's rare though though the Aughts were unusually volatile in this way with three instances of this occurring: 2009 (Billy Elliot vs Next to Normal) 2005 (Spamalot vs Light in the Piazza) 2002 (Thoroughly Modern Millie vs Urinetown)
2013 Kinky Boots/Kinky Boots
8 originals, only 1 of which was a jukebox musical

Jukebox musicals only came close to 50% of all musicals available in one of those years (2018 - a very weak year for Broadway musicals) but so far for 2020 they're 100% of the game. Yikes!

Unfortunately we couldn't find complete lists of eligible shows which opened in these years
2012 Once/Newsies How did Newsies win Original Score when, like Once, they used the songs from its movie in the stage version? Strange. I dont remember this situation/controversy. Anyone?
2011 The Book of Mormon / The Book of Mormon
2010 Memphis / Memphis 

Though we're still early in the 2019/2020 season there are already more non-original score musicals scheduled to open than at any point in the past seven years. Curiously there are also no musical revivals scheduled yet though rumors are floating around as ever about shows that might happen. The only revivals officially announced are The Music Man and 1776 but both are scheduled for the 2020/2021 season instead. To make a long story short (too late) this might be a very weak theater season for musicals unless some of the shows in development are stealth-ready and charge forward with an eye to a golden window of opportunity to win Tonys without much competition.


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Reader Comments (15)

I'm not too worried yet. There will be many open houses by the end of the summer that will have tenants soon enough. Shows that are rumored to be circling are largely original scores--Six, Marie Dancing Still, Cagney (which has original songs and George M. Cohen numbers). Things can be rushed to take advantage of the open houses (we'll find out soon enough how far along that Mrs. Doubfire musical is) or shows that have taken their time might finally get a home (could Ever After finally come to Broadway?). You also never know what off-Broadway shows could be pulled in last minute to take advantage of a gap in scheduling, Everyday Rapture/What the Constitution Means to Me-style.

Right now it looks grim, but you just never know what's waiting to bow at any given time.

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Thanks so much for focusing on the importance of an original score vs. the slightly tired idea of "original" stories ("movie adaptations are bad...blah blah blah"). Great musicals have always come from adapting other works; it's all in the execution. But without fresh scores, there is real danger of stagnation.

I agree with Robert, though. The last minute off-broadway indie hit often slides in at the last moment. We'll know more in the late fall how things are truly going to shape up. Take a look at what is happening at some of the regional houses that are the pipeline for new work.

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

Robert G -- but we usually get quite a few originals. I mean 2018 was dire and it still had four of them (one of them really good) and we usually get anywhere from 6-11 of them. But not a single one is scheduled yet? I am worried. But maybe because I get so tired of jukebox musicals. They just dont excite me that much.

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Currently in love with the original scores for West End hits Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (film adaption now in production) and Six (starts in Sept at the A.R.T., usually a pre-Broadway run).

Thank god for YouTube and Spotify.

I’m not worried.

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Yes, it does look dire for original scores currently, but there is SOME hope: SIX (which is FANTASTIC) is very seriously coming to Broadway although it may not happen until next season, same with the gender-swapped revival of Company. There is another original musical from London, The Grinning Man, that is coming over but last I heard that's dependent on them getting Circle In The Square, so if Oklahoma stays there for a long time it may be a while before we see it on this side of the pond.

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

I think is probably easier to finance a jukebox musical because the songs have an audience

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I'm more worried about all the Disney films becoming VERY long running shows and filling so many theaters

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDO

I saw The Cher Show last week and it was pretty bad. The Jagged Little Pill sounds very heavy-handed based on what I've read.

I did get tickets for Moulin Rouge, though ...

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

Can Six fill a Broadway stage? Because that score is fucking sensational.

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

When I saw GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY, I thought 'Oh! Have they turned the Charlize Theron Oscar nominee into a musical?'

LOL, that's scraping the barrel a bit!

July 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

regarding 'newsies', from the nyt wrap of the nominations:

"Going in, Tony prognosticators knew it would be a weak year for original scores, given that the likely best musical nominees “Once” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” both draw on songs written for other purposes. As expected “Newsies the Musical,” with songs by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, was nominated; though many of its songs come from the 1992 film, there’s enough new material in the stage version to justify Tony recognition. Given that Mr. Menken, a multiple Oscar and Grammy winner, has never won the Tony and currently has three shows on Broadway, his score is the likely favorite."

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterpar

A Strange Loop, which runs for a couple more weeks at Playwrights, could sweep in. It deserves to.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

Out of all the categories of musicals (original story, book/play/movie adaptation, jukebox musical), the jukebox musical is my least favorite (I liked Jersey Boys though). It just seems a little lazy - the songs are already written, let's just throw in a bare bones plot and coast on nostalgia for the artist's work.

I don't mind musicals based on movies - 42nd Street, Kinky Boots, How to Succeed in Business, She Loves Me, Once, Hairspray are all fantastic! But I wished they didn't just randomly select movies to make musicals of - some movies lend themselves well to be adapted (like Billy Elliot), some just don't (who watches King Kong and thinks a musical number or two would improve the plot?)

Original stories are very rare and many of the most lauded musicals turn out to be based on previous works (everything from Oklahoma to Cabaret to Hamilton). Still, it is nice to see a Dear Evan Hansen or Book of Mormon sneak through once in a while).

Hopefully some more musicals are announced or next year's Tony's are going to be extremely lacking (see 1985 where they couldn't even muster up enough nominees to have the Best Actor or Actress in a musical categories).

July 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKP

Austin -- that's a musical? I thought it was a play.

July 10, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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July 17, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterfnaf

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