musical theater

The Difference Between Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway

Many consider New York City to be the Cultural Capital of the World — there are countless things to do for both tourists and native New Yorkers alike. But nearly everyone visiting the Big Apple makes sure they catch a show. While Broadway is obviously the flashiest of the options out there, there are also Off-Broadway and even Off-Off-Broadway productions. But what do these labels mean exactly?

The answer is surprisingly simple. What gives a show its designation as Broadway, Off-Broadway, or Off-Off-Broadway isn’t its production value or budget, or a measure of its success. It’s actually mostly related to a show’s seating capacity!

Broadway

Off-Off-Broadway

Off-Off-Broadway theatres have 99 seats or less, so are obviously smaller venues than their more well known cousins. There are around 120 Off-Off-Broadway theaters in New York City at any given time, with many located in the city’s more artistic neighborhoods, like the West Village.

Often these shows will have cheaper ticket prices, and closer access to the actors after a performance. Because it’s easier to take financial chances with smaller productions, Off-Off-Broadway shows are also more likely to be avant-garde or experimental than more mainstream venues. They can be more traditional plays and musicals however, and give theatre-goers a healthy amount of options throughout the year.

An example of an Off-Off-Broadway production is Benten Kozo, directed by Jim Simpson, an Obie award-winning production that ran for over six months.

Some Off-Off-Broadway theatres:
HERE Arts Center, The Kraine Theater, La MaMa E.T.C.


Off-Broadway

Off-Broadway theatres can be significantly larger than on Off-Off-Broadway, and can hold up to to 499 seats. With fantastic original stories, musical revivals, and even performance art shows, many shows that begin on Off-Broadway can jump to Broadway if successful enough and warrants larger audience capacity — a famous example being historical musical, Hamilton.

Well-known stage performers can also be prominent in the Off-Broadway scene, not just limiting themselves to larger Broadway shows. Many performers tend to go back to the intimacy of a smaller theatre where an audience can be engaged more intimately with a production and its cast. There are roughly 85 Off-Broadway theatres in Manhattan.

Stomp is an enormously popular production that began in the United Kingdom and has been running in the East Village’s Orpheum Theatre for years, and is a unique example of the varied types of shows you can catch on Off-Broadway.

Some Off-Broadway theatres:
Cherry Lane Theatre, SoHo Playhouse, Minetta Lane Theatre

Theatre Ballet
Broadway

Broadway shows have the strictest guidelines to earn their moniker. In addition to having 500 seats or greater, they must be located in the Theatre District (around Times Square in Midtown, Manhattan) as well as in venues certified by The Broadway League, the trade association for the Broadway industry.

Because of their prime locations, Broadway shows have a greater chance to attract tourists and other theatre-goers, and as such, have long since been known to have much larger budgets and production values than other musicals and stage shows in New York City. Similarly, they can also attract larger stars, as well as adaptations of famous films and other works whose rights may be expensive to procure.

Examples of famous Broadway shows are nearly countless, with The Phantom of the Opera being the longest running show on Broadway to date.

Some Broadway theatres:
Gershwin Theatre, Winter Garden Theatre, Ambassador Theatre

NYFA Alumna Niki Landella: In Her Own Words

By Niki Landella

My experience at the NYFA was without a doubt one of the best things I have ever done for myself, for my spirit, for my artistic process and for my personal and professional development.

I only spent four weeks there and I am an entirely different woman as a result.

Niki 3

Photo provided by Niki Landella.

Picture this:

Picture perfect facilities, the Statue of Liberty in the distance and an amazing view; state-of-the-art equipment, people from all over the world in one building studying with you, every single teacher with credentials which, when mentioned, could easily be mistaken for name dropping — but none of that is what really makes NYFA special.

For me, the best part about NYFA was the souls I encountered and the depth of the humans with whom I had the privilege of interacting. My experience was one of absolute respect and dignity.

Each and every teacher encouraged me to trust myself more, and I think this has something to do with the success that they have already experienced in their lives. There is something about people who have already experienced legitimate success in their careers — they don’t need to put you down in order to get a sense of significance. I think because they had already experienced professional fulfillment, their teaching process was free of the subconscious agendas I find many teachers in the arts have. I speak as an individual who has grown up in the arts and has been in the arts for 15 years.

No NYFA teacher ever motivated me through shame. I found myself doing things I had struggled with for years, just because my NYFA teachers had the necessary patience with me. I absolutely blossomed under their nurturing.

In improv class I was taught to listen to my own inner compass.

In Meisner I was taught to listen to others.

In dance I was taught to give myself the dignity of my process in getting to know my body. In singing I learned to trust my own voice.

In lab classes I also learned to respond to my own inner stimuli.

Music teachers all gave me the comfort of knowing that, with enough patience, I am capable of understanding what I once thought of as a complex art; to trust that there is music inside of me, and that they would be willing to help me unlock it.

Niki 1

Photo provided by Niki Landella.

There’s something indescribably beautiful and empowering about the culture of respect under which I found the New York Film Academy to operate.

Then there are the classmates. I know it may sound like a luxury to have global classmates, but picture this: You’re sitting in music theory, and an Italian word like “Acapella” comes up. Your actual Italian friend from actual Italy who is sitting next to you says, “In my language that word means ‘in the chapel,’ because acapella music was first sung at church,” and then the music teacher responds and gives you all the historical data on that.

Now imagine how many of these little serendipitous moments you have every day, which add so much to your store of knowledge and such depth of calibre to your education in a way that few schools are able to provide on this globe. And I say that as someone who has lived on three continents.

Then there is just something about New York. In the arts at least, New York is where the best of the best go to refine themselves. When you are in New York you are swimming with the big fish and you have an unparalleled wealth of resources at your fingertips.

My short time at the New York Film Academy was worth every penny, every drop of sweat that went into getting there — and then some. I would recommend a course at the New York Film Academy, at any of their campuses, to any individual who considers themselves serious about being a storyteller in any field. They source the best of the best, they give you their absolute best every day, and all they ask for in return is that you give your best. There is a culture of excellence coupled with a culture of respect. There is absolutely no way one can walk away from such an experience without being deeply enriched.

New York Film Academy would like to thank Niki Landella for taking the time to share her story about her wonderful experience in our musical theatre program. We are so glad to have you in our community, and can’t wait to hear about your next adventures!

 

“La La Land”: NYFA Examines What Makes a Movie Musical Work

The New York Film Academy is the only school currently offering students the opportunity to perform in an original, fully produced movie musical (check out the write-up on our movie musicals in The Huffington Post). And as reported recently by Broadwayworld.com, NYFA’s movie musicals frequently feature collaborations with Broadway and industry professionals. Which is why we find it both exciting and important to help our community better understand the success of recent Award-season darling “La La Land.” What makes a movie musical so successful, and what can our students learn from this moment?

“La La Land,” Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to “Whiplash,” was the dark horse of 2016 films. It started off as a limited release, yet by Christmas it was in theaters nationwide. Despite its quiet start, the movie musical has gained traction quickly in the industry.

The jazz-themed musical, featuring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, took the industry by surprise when it secured seven Golden Globes at the beginning of January. With the Oscars a little less than a month away, Chazelle’s sophomore debut has received 14 Oscar nominations, with two songs from “La La Land” taking spots for original songs:

  • Best Picture
  • Actor in a Leading Role
  • Actress in a Leading Role
  • Cinematography
  • Costume Design
  • Directing
  • Film Editing
  • Music
  • Music (Original Song)
  • Production Design
  • Sound Editing
  • Sound Mixing
  • Writing (Original Screenplay)

Prior to “La La Land,” only two movies in history have secured 14 Oscar nominations – “All About Eve” (1950) and “Titanic” (1997).  “Mary Poppins” (1964), a beloved classic movie musical, received 13 Oscar nominations but it didn’t win Best Picture.

So, to the question burning on all of our minds:

What makes this movie musical successful?

Compared to its fellow Oscar contenders, “La La Land” isn’t a hearty drama nor does it touch on serious issues. Chazelle’s romantic musical, set in Los Angeles, doesn’t immerse its audience into bouts of depression or isolation. Instead, “La La Land” revolves around two attractive people chasing their dreams and at its core exists a romantic comedy — the type of movie that rarely wins Oscars, but that tells a very human story in a directly relatable (if somewhat more glamorous) way.

For a movie musical to succeed, the performances must rivet and move the audience. “La La Land” succeeds at this, unconventionally — for while both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are strong actors, neither are experienced in singing and dancing. Nevertheless, audiences and critics alike have agreed that their performances do what matters most: captivate. Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post wrote in her review of “La La Land”: “They have the unforced grace of natural performers, lending an offhand rakishness to every step they take.”

So how can students build their own captivating performances in movie musicals? Here at the New York Film Academy, we believe it’s important that every student in our Musical Theater program receives the highest level of training in professional skills as triple threat performers under the guidance of Broadway-level faculty. In the quest to build a powerful performance, professionals must have a full arsenal of tools to draw upon. NYFA musical theatre instructors have toured in various Broadway and touring productions, regional theaters, opera, movie musicals and television shows. They can offer students real-world training that will prepare students to offer their best possible performance.

What makes “La La Land” different than other romantic comedies?

Unlike most romantic comedies to hit the market today, the two main characters don’t get drunk, have a one-night stand and move on with their lives. Instead, Chazelle uses the first act of the movie to establish the main characters’ individual careers and passions. The dynamics between Mia and Sebastian are effortless. Instead of forcing the characters to be dependent on each other to move the film forward, it allows the audience to bond with both characters on a personal level before the characters become fully entwined. These fully fleshed, individualized characters are what propels the story. And it is the attention to the individual details in the characters that allow Stone and Gosling to shine.

Musical theatre students at NYFA get to experience this careful, deliberate level of individual characterization in the most spectacular way: their roles in original movie musicals are specially written for them. Like Stone and Gosling in “La La Land,” NYFA musical theatre students get the benefit of performing in roles that are tailored to their individuality.

Another factor in the success of “La La Land” is the way the film pays loving homage to movie musicals before it, perfectly balancing affection with clever innovation. The movie isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it gives nods to movie musicals like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Grease,” “Sweet Charity,” “Boogie Nights,” and “Shall We Dance,” achieving an intoxicating blend of freshness and nostalgia for the audience. This knowledge of and ability to build upon the musical theatre canon is a strength one that we firmly believe in teaching at NYFA, where students not only gain training and experience in performing classic musical theatre pieces, but are able to experience Broadway productions from their base in New York City.

Chazelle didn’t set out to deliver a movie focused on serious issues, which would more than likely cloud the plot of the movie. What he set out to do was create two relatable characters reminiscent of earlier movie musicals meant to break the monotony of super heroes and far-fetched action movies dominating today’s film industry. And it worked. Amazingly well.

Start your own movie musical adventure today with the New York Film Academy’s Musical Theatre School.

What Is Hamilton’s Legacy for Broadway Musicals?

“Hamilton” has gone from Broadway musical to total phenomenon. The story of a scrappy “son of a whore and a scotsman” who helps mold the beginnings of the United States — only to fall to his career rival in a duel — has taken America by storm. The musical has gained plenty of famous fans, including President Barack Obama, who joked that the musical was the only thing that he agreed with Dick Cheney about. Central to the musical’s success are its diverse cast and the way it engages with hip-hop. These unique facets will be the foundation of its legacy.

HAMILTON: THE NUMBERS

What a success it’s been: Hamilton has been sold out from its opening performance at the Off-Broadway Public Theater. By the time the show opened on Broadway, it had already taken in $30 million in its advance ticket sales. The peak of its historical success was in late November 2016, when it grossed 3.3 million for 8 performances for the highest grossing week in Broadway history. As far as sales of the original recording are concerned, the Original Broadway Recording was one of only three cast recordings to move into the top 10 of the Billboard 200.

HIP-HOP

One of the big factors in Hamilton’s success lies in its natural conversation with contemporary culture through hip hop. Before “Hamilton” was a phenomenon, it was a workshop performance called The Hamilton Mixtape, hearkening to how rappers without deals would debut their music on independently released recordings hoping to strike up a buzz. One of the first people to fully buy into “Hamilton” was Daveed Diggs, the rapper for experimental rap group Clipping, who played both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis Lafayette.

After the show became a phenomenon, a mixtape helmed by Questlove of The Roots and Lin-Manuel Miranda featured plenty of rap luminaries, including Busta Rhymes and Nas. The musical’s reverence for hip-hop is totally sincere, and as hip-hop becomes america’s most appreciated and popular music form, it follows that its best practitioners would respond to a musical that is a love letter to the very genre they pioneered. Broadway musicals often respond to popular music, but rarely respond like this, and it’s shown to be a winning formula.

DIVERSITY

It’s easy to see why “Hamilton” inspired Busta Rhymes to reach out to Lin-Manuel Miranda after he saw the musical: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s project very consciously features a cast made up of people of color and women, reflecting the changing makeup of the United States, with the only white actor in the original cast playing King George III, the King that inspired the American Revolution. As the play asserts, “Immigrants/we get the job done,” and that’s inspiring to a wealth of people across the world.

CONCLUSION

“Hamilton’s” legacy will certainly be represented by its bold embrace of hip hop, the diversity of its cast which is itself an unprecedented embrace of the story of the founding fathers by people of color, and perhaps most importantly the depiction of immigrants as the backbone of the American success story. If more musicals follow “Hamilton’s” example, we’ll continue to see fruitful collaborations of socially aware concepts, inclusive casting, and the exciting currency of popular music.