Definition of a Broadway Musical

By J. Lynn Patten
A Broadway musical is much more than someone singing and dancing.

Since the nineteenth century, theater lovers have found themselves captivated by the tiny piece of American land that is the phenomenon known as "Broadway." Musicals quickly developed into the most popular entertainments offered. However, there are a few rules as to what actually constitutes a "Broadway musical."

Location

The Broadway theater district is the section of New York City that extends from 42nd Street to 53rd Street, between 6th and 8th Avenues in Manhattan. The avenue of Broadway runs through this section but Broadway musicals appear in theaters that are not on that particular avenue as well. If a musical appears in a theater outside of this district, it would not be considered a Broadway musical.

Production Specifications

A theater must hold 500 or more seats to be considered a Broadway theater. Those with fewer seats are considered off-Broadway, even though they may be located in the theater district. The musicals and other shows produced will generally have open run times, only closing when ticket sales have dropped and do not show signs of rising. Broadway musicals will appear eight times a week during their runs.

Components of a Musical

A musical blends plot structure, musical scores, singing, dancing and spoken dialogue. Musicals are almost always created as a collaborative effort with two or more individuals writing the lyrics, dialogue and/or music. The purpose of the music is to heighten the emotion being expressed by a character in a given moment. Character-driven songs should make sense within the context of the story and move the plot forward.

Broadway Musicals

Broadway musicals are, therefore, musicals that have appeared in Broadway theaters. However, while there is no hard-and-fast rule regarding the length of time a show must run to be considered a "Broadway musical," it is generally accepted that only those productions that have lasted several months to several years in Broadway theater houses gain that title.

Musicals and Other Musical Productions

Musical production types can include the musical, musical play, musical revue, opera and operetta. Musicals rely on the music to heighten the plot, while musical plays have music added that does not necessarily move the story along. Musical revues include several staged musical pieces that do not need to have any plot connection, typically performed as a tribute to a certain composer or style of music. Operas do not have spoken dialogue and the goal is to produce heightened emotion and art. Singers strive to convey emotion through vocal technique and do not use amplification. Operettas are similar to operas in structure but are presented in a more romantic fashion with an emphasis on lighter themes.

About the Author

J. Lynn Patten has her bachelor's degree in psychology from Central Michigan University and is working on her master's in drama from Texas Woman's University. She has worked with the young for more than eight years, in educational, social and artistic venues.