As Hamilton drowned out most of tonight’s Tony Awards, it was easy to miss Steve Martin’s encapsulation of how Broadway has run for some time now. There are two methods for success: You could work for years, striving, getting lucky, then getting a break, and then working even harder, getting luckier, and becoming a hit. “Or you could do what I did,” said Martin in his introduction to his musical Bright Star. “Already be famous.”
The second method may be in its twilight. Once upon a time, if you had a household name producing, directing, writing, or starring in a show, you had a good chance of making it to Broadway, possibly making some money on the way. But off-broadway success may be on the rise once more, not only to win Tonys, but to reap longterm financial success.
In the past decade, the last jukebox musical to win Best Musical was Jersey Boys in 2006. After that, we were greeted with off-Broadway jewel boxes that graduated to a larger stage but retained their essential creativity, including Spring Awakening, In the Heights, Once, and Fun Home. Even the smash-hit The Book of Mormon retained the creative vision of Matt Stone and Trey Parker—that was the selling point.
This isn’t to say Hamilton has proven that a creative vision, cherished and guarded by its producers, is the only thing a production needs to survive. But it’s increasingly clear that, for producers, big names and reliable standards aren’t a safe bet any more. It’s better to gamble on talent.