Are Broadway Previews Worth Skipping Opening Night?

Matthew Broderick

Its a bit redundant to describe a Broadway preview performance as one that rolls out before the show’s official opening. That should be common knowledge. But the better question is, does a preview performance deliver the same caliber of performance as those post-opening? Are there significant changes that get wedged in as the show makes its way to opening night? Do the stars come out or are you stuck with sub-par talent for top dollar ticket prices? We explore the unique dynamics of Broadway preview showing to determine if its worth your theatre dollar or if you should just wait for the real thing.

Technically, Broadway previews occur a few weeks prior to a show’s official opening, where audiences are afforded the opportunity to see performances while critics wait until the show opens to share their reviews. When the concept of previews first came into play, one of the major benefits was a lower ticket price afforded to audience members. However, a growing number of previews feature prices that are barely lower if not the same as post-opening prices (though you can still find some really good deals). So what remains the appeal?

For some people the appeal comes from the fact that they are seeing a show that may not be in its finished format. Anita Gates of The New York Times found this to be true in a statement she garnered from Adriana Devine, a self-described  “working actress, photographer, event planner, wife and mother of two” from Newark, Del. She said of seeing A Tale of Two Cities for the third time during preview season, “Every time we see it, it’s so different. It’s fun to watch the process [and] I can’t wait to see the finished product.”

Todd Michael Cook, an aspiring actor, also shared with Gates that he had seen A Tale of Two Cities during preview season 5 times, though the show had only been in previews for a week. He commented pleasantly, “I’ve never seen a show change so dramatically. One number that had been a duet had turned into a solo, and a much-talked-about cemetery scene had been deleted on Tuesday night, although it may reappear and may or may not make it into the final version.”

Yet, it is these very changes that prove to be an area of concern and sometimes disappointment for some preview goers. There are numerous accounts of dissatisfied theatre goers who went to a Broadway preview expecting to see a show and found themselves viewing something that more closely resembled a rough rehearsal. The Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Gamerman recounted in her article, “Some theatergoers were shocked at early previews of the Off Broadway play “The Starry Messenger” late last year, when star Matthew Broderick repeatedly called for lines from a prompter and read a monologue directly from the script. With preview tickets going for $60 — the same price as a ticket after opening — Mr. Broderick was lambasted online.”

A user of commented that during a preview of I’ll Eat You Last, “Bette Midler was still on book which means that she was calling for lines rather frequently during the show.” The reviewer went on to add, “Sometimes you can’t tell if it is a preview. Other times you get interesting results. It all depends on how far the actors & directors are towards “freezing” the show which means making no more changes.”

And while the incompleteness of a show so to speak can be frustrating, producers do attest to the need for the previews in order to determine what works and what doesn’t prior to a show’s opening. Though Mr. Norris, an intern for a theatrical production company commented in an interview with Ellen Gamerman, “It can be kind of unfair to the people who are naive to the whole preview process.”

Emily Frank, a regular Broadway show viewer also spoke with Gamerman regarding her dismay for previews, “It could be changed, it could be better, if it’s three hours long, they might cut a song—they tweak it,” she says. “It shouldn’t be the same price as a full-price Broadway show.”

When push comes to shove, each person is unique and has a different preference for the type of show they want to see. If you’re the kind of person who prefers a finished product, then an opening night performance is probably your best bet. However, if you are someone who enjoys the fun and lightness of a show in the works, then a preview could prove to be great fit for you tastes. Then again, you may like to see a show evolve and develop into its final product in which case a preview and an opening night performance might be the perfect combination. Determine your priorities and make the selection that best fits your budget and your viewing preference and then enjoy the show!

Author: Diamond Grant