12/04/2012 10:53 am ET Updated Feb 03, 2013

Why 2012 Was a Record Year for Broadway

Broadway had a record year for both gross and attendance. If there were any surer sign that New York City was recovering from a financial crisis it's that. Known for their propensity to spend on lavish nights out, New Yorkers and tourists alike flocked to The Great White Way to take in a show. But these numbers reflect more than just people's abilities to afford the tickets. The shows Broadway put on in 2012 were a notch above.

The stat that jumps out most for me is the fact that playgoers attended the theater this year more often than musical enthusiasts. Broadway is predominantly known for and associated with its musicals that are expensive yet memorable. Many of them are well worth the price of admission just to witness the theatrics and choreography of Broadway, an experience to cherish. Yet, I was among the many who were more impressed in 2012 with the plays that I saw.

Perhaps it was the benefit of faster production (and easy closing once investment has been recouped) that earned plays the upperhand. Or maybe it was the draw of the big name stars of some of the most popular productions, including the Al Pacino-led Glengarry Glen Ross officially opening this weekend. Or, alternatively, it could be indicative of a larger trend that plays, and not musicals, are emerging as the main attraction. While Wicked, The Book of Mormon, The Lion King, and other great musicals continue to bring in large audiences, it's the plays that opened this season that had people talking.

A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman were the talk of the town this past spring and summer; Clybourne Park was a masterpiece; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? stood out as the best show I saw all year.

While some musicals like The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess found box-office success, many of the newer ones or revivals didn't have such luck. It was the plays that really shined through. Looking ahead at Broadway's 2013 season, several big names stand out, led by Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Yet, overall, it's mostly musicals among the announced shows. That makes sense considering it takes a longer time to hatch a musical than to stage a play.

As the next season gets underway, however, don't be surprised to see more new plays popping up, even for a limited run. The message theatergoers sent in 2012 is that if you get a big-name star to headline a play they know and love then they will fill the seats.