6 Predictions for the Theater in 2020
Foresight is 2020.
You can never perfectly predict the future, but a robust knowledge of past events and an ear to the ground can unveil the trends of the future. Here is what our reporters see on the horizon:
More Shows Will Be Evicted as the Fight for Space Intensifies Broadway
The Shubert Organization evicted Beetlejuice from the Winter Garden Theatre so the upcoming revival of The Music Man could plant its flag. This news shocked the industry, but it goes to show how little space there currently is for new theater on the Great White Way. Long-running hits like Phantom, Chicago, and Hamilton aren't going anywhere, and newer shows like Moulin Rouge! and Jagged Little Pill are poised for substantial runs. We predict that the lack of space for commercial productions will lead to more situations like Beetlejuice's eviction in 2020, with producers jockeying for position and landlords doing whatever they can to hunt for the surefire hit that will earn millions.
John Mulaney Will Announce His Broadway Musical Debut
John Mulaney clearly wants to be a big Broadway star, and here's my evidence: 1) he already is, 2) he's a musical theater nerd – so much so that he wrote a Company documentary parody, 3) he loves hobnobbing with big Broadway stars. It's those last two reasons that lead me to believe that deep down, Mulaney is not satisfied with having starred in a successful two-man comedy act at the Lyceum Theatre and secretly harbors the desire to lead a BIG BROADWAY MUSICAL. Now, Mulaney's already told Vulture that he's interested in writing a musical (which yay we'd love that too), and he's been pretty vocal about not being able to sing, but nevertheless, I'm confident he wouldn't turn down the chance to replace Hugh Jackman in The Music Man or play Nathan Detroit in Guys & Dolls. You don't really have to be able to sing for either of those roles anyway. And if 2020 doesn't bring an announcement of Mulaney's big Broadway break, surely it'll at least involve him hosting the Tonys, and I expect partial credit for that.
Longer Plays Will Find Favor on New York Stages
For theater critics who see multiple shows a week, the sweet-spot for a play's running time is 90 minutes, no intermission. But in the past few years, New York audiences have been showing enthusiasm for plays twice as long — and longer, such as two-part behemoths like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and The Inheritance. Even in an era when attention spans seem to be dwindling, many of us have built up our endurance by binge-watching TV shows for hours on end, and that stamina may be translating to the theater. Last season, The Ferryman (three hours, 15 minutes) proved popular and won the Tony for Best Play, and Angels in America (seven hours, 15 minutes) got raves and won Best Revival. The new year already has a couple of lengthier plays lined up, including the perennial Edward Albee favorite Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which usually clocks in at three hours and change, and The Lehman Trilogy, a three-hour-20-minute chronicle of the Lehman brothers. While 90-minute one-acts will always be popular, it's my prediction that we're going to see more three-hour-plus plays coming to New York stages in 2020.
Plays Will Get Even More Political in the Run-Up to the 2020 Presidential Election.
One of the biggest Broadway success stories this year was the popularity of Heidi Schreck's What the Constitution Means to Me, which transferred to Broadway's Hayes Theater after hit off-Broadway runs in 2018 at New York Theatre Workshop and then the Greenwich House Theater. Perhaps the success of Schreck's overtly political play on the Great White Way suggests an appetite for more plays dealing directly with American politics in the age of Trump. Even Tony Kushner couldn't help but update his first play A Bright Room Called Day to include references to the current presidential administration for its recent off-Broadway revival at the Public Theater. Expect more such artistic forms of political resistance in 2020, on and off-Broadway, during what may well be the most crucial election year in a generation.
Older Audiences Will Get More Variety in the Stories About Them
When Bess Wohl's Broadway-bound play Grand Horizons debuted at Williamstown Theatre Festival this past summer, Wohl overheard some very telling ladies room talk: "Finally, a play for us that's not about Alzheimer's." Grand Horizons — which tells the story of a couple deciding to divorce after 50 years of marriage — began its Broadway run December 23, and I predict other playwrights will catch onto this hunger within Broadway's primary demographic and start exploring other sides of the Baby Boomer generation. And we can all get excited for that day to come — because great roles for older actors, means beautiful performances from theater legends.
MJ the Musical Will Be a Big Hit
I've previously written that the Broadway-bound Michael Jackson jukebox musical faced more of a threat from its creative process than from audience boycotts — that if Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough ever made it to Broadway, it would immediately rake in millions in ticket sales. Well, now that the show (which has been rebranded MJ) has booked the Neil Simon Theatre and cast its leading man, it seems poised to become one of the big hits of 2020. Too many people have fond memories of Jackson's music to be deterred by persistent allegations concerning the pop star's history of sexual abuse (no matter how damning), and plenty of fans have raised doubts about the veracity of those claims. Should MJ do as well at the box office as I expect, it will offer further proof that what the Twitterati declares "canceled" is rarely ever purged from the actual culture.