Theatre historians are digging through record books this week trying to discover when was the last time Broadway had 23 musicals playing simultaneously.
With the Dec. 3 resumption of performances for 1776, Broadway gets its 23rd musical, a situation a situation that apparently has not existed at least since the 1960s -- and possibly as far back as the 1920s.
Broadway came close to that number back in April 1997 when there were 22. At that time, spokesperson for the League of American Theatres and Producers said the 22-musical figure was the highest since the League began keeping computerized records in 1984. Several weeks with 19 musicals were recorded in that time.
The situation results from two colliding trends:
* Older hits that run for years and years, like Cats and Les Miserables. Broadway currently has seven shows that have run more than 1000 performances, four of which have been around more than five years. * An unusual fall bumper crop of new shows, mostly musicals, that come on top of the spring 1997 rush trying to open just before the Tony deadline.
Two of the current musicals have posted closing notices, and others are struggling, so the number will likely drop below the new record shortly.
However, for this brief, shining moment, here are the musicals playing on Broadway (including one in previews) as of Dec. 3, 1997, in alphabetical order:
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (closing Jan. 4)
Beauty and the Beast
Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk
Grease! (advertising "last weeks")
Jekyll & Hyde
1776 (resumes performances Dec. 3)
Smokey Joe's Cafe
Street Corner Symphony
The Capeman (in previews)
The King and I
The Lion King
The Phantom of the Opera
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Triumph of Love
Not included on this list is Ragtime, which starts previews Dec. 26 at a new theatre, the Ford Center for the Performing Arts (on the 42nd Street site of the old Lyric and Apollo theatres).
-- By Robert Viagas