Last updated

Playbill logo.svg
EditorDiep Tran
Categories Theatre
Total circulation
First issue1884; New Series 1982
Country United States
Based in New York City
Website OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
ISSN 0551-0678

Playbill is an American monthly magazine for theatergoers. Although there is a subscription issue available for home delivery, most copies of Playbill are printed for particular productions and distributed at the door as the show's program.


Playbill was first printed in 1884 for a single theater on 21st Street[ which? ] in New York City. The magazine is now used at nearly every Broadway theatre, as well as many Off-Broadway productions. Outside New York City, Playbill is used at theaters throughout the United States. As of September 2012, its circulation was 4,073,680. [1]


Cover of The Playbill for a 1939 production of No Time for Comedy starring Katharine Cornell The Playbill 1939 cover.jpg
Cover of The Playbill for a 1939 production of No Time for Comedy starring Katharine Cornell

What is known today as Playbill started in 1884, when Frank Vance Strauss founded the New York Theatre Program Corporation [2] specializing in printing theater programs. Strauss reimagined the concept of a theater program, making advertisements a standard feature and thus transforming what was then a leaflet into a fully designed magazine. [3] The new format proved popular with theatergoers, who started to collect playbills as souvenirs; [3] however, the name (The)Playbill did not appear until the 1930s while earlier programs published by the company simply bore the name of the venue. [4]

In 1918, Frank Vance Strauss sold the company to his nephew, Richard M. Huber. From 1918 onward, the company started printing playbills for all of Broadway and by 1924, was printing 16,000,000 programs for over 60 theaters. [3] [5] The 1920s also saw attempts to introduce consistency in the design with the covers of the magazines featuring artwork representing the theater, which would stay the same from show to show. [4] In 1934–35, the name The Playbill made its first appearance on the cover [5] although there was still no standard logo in that period. The design underwent a series of transformations with show titles occasionally switching places with The Playbill logo in various places on the cover until the magazine's logo found its permanent place at the top of the front cover [4] and the publication as it is known today became Playbill in 1957, under then-owner Gilman Kraft. [3] [6]


Each issue features articles focusing on actors, new plays, musicals, and special attractions. This "wraparound" section is the same for all Playbills at all venues each month. Within this wraparound, the Playbill contains listings, photos, and biographies of the cast; biographies of authors, composers, and production staff; a list of scenes, as songs and their performers (for musicals); and a brief description of the setting for the particular show. It also lists the number of intermissions and "At This Theatre", a column with historical information on the theater housing the production [7] . The Playbill distributed on opening night of a Broadway show is stamped with a seal on the cover and the date appears on the title page within the magazine. This is, however, not the case for every opening night playbill: there are many in circulation that do not feature the date.

In lieu of the cast and show information, the subscription edition of Playbill contains listings of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions and news from London productions and North American touring companies.

The Playbill banner is yellow with black writing. Each June since 2014, the yellow banner has been replaced with a rainbow banner for LGBT Pride Month.

The Playbill banner has changed the yellow to another color on rare occasions in its history:

Other media

Playbill launched Playbill Online in January 1994. The free website offers news about the theater industry, focusing on New York shows but including regional theater, touring, and international stage happenings. It is read by show fans and theater practitioners, and is updated regularly. It also offers discounts on tickets and dining for its members.

In 2000, Playbill added, an online shopping store offering official Playbill merchandise and merchandise from most current Broadway and touring productions.

In 2006, Playbill released its first records on Playbill Records, an imprint of SonyBMG. Releases included Brian Stokes Mitchell's eponymous solo album and two compilations of show tunes entitled Scene Stealers, The Men and Scene Stealers, The Women.

Playbill Radio, a 24-hour Broadway-themed internet radio station featuring news, podcasts, and a musical library of over 20,000 titles, premiered in 2007.

In 2011, Playbill launched Playbill Vault, a comprehensive online database of Broadway history. Playbill Vault provides records of Broadway productions from 1930 to the present. [9] Information on the website includes original and current casts, actor head shots, production credits, Playbill cover images, scanned Playbill Who's Who pages, production photos, and videos.

In 2012, Playbill launched Playbill Memory Bank, a website that allowed theater-goers to track their memories of their theater attendances by entering dates they attended a show, along with information like ticket scans. The site provided information about cast members, including which performer had each particular role, for roles that may have had several replacements over the life of the show. Playbill Memory Bank shut down December 31, 2016. [10]

Playbill launched its first app, called Playbill Passport, on January 4, 2016. [11]

In 2021, Playbill added a "post-the-pay" rule to their job site after a campaign by On Our Team and Costume Professionals for Wage Equity called for an increased pay transparency and equity in the theater industry. [12] [13]

Competition with Stagebill

For decades, Playbill concentrated on Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters, while Stagebill focused on concerts, opera, and dance in venues such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. [14] However, by the late 1990s, Playbill was highly profitable; Stagebill was not, losing millions of dollars annually by 1998. [15] To increase revenue, Stagebill entered Playbill's turf. The truce was first breached in 1995, when The Public Theater quietly defected to Stagebill, and more noisily in 1997, when Disney contracted Stagebill for its musical The Lion King at its newly reopened New Amsterdam Theatre. [16] The main point of contention in the latter case was control over advertising content: Playbill is distributed free to theaters, relying on advertising revenue that is completely under its authority, whereas Disney, per company policy, required a program without cigarette or liquor ads. [17]

In response to Stagebill's upstart incursion, Playbill began to produce Showbill, a sister publication that conformed to Disney's advertising requirements for all publications distributed in its properties. [14] Now with an alternative, Disney switched from Stagebill to Showbill for The Lion King late in its run at the New Amsterdam. (When the musical moved to the Minskoff Theatre, which Disney does not own, it was obligated to use Playbill, as are Disney productions at other theaters. [14] ) The Ford Center for the Performing Arts also commissioned Showbill for its inaugural production of Ragtime , presumably to exclude other automakers' ads. [14] In a different circumstance, the producers of the Broadway revival of Cabaret wished to maintain the atmosphere of a sleazy nightclub at its Studio 54 venue, and insisted on handing out Playbills after the performance (instead of before). Playbill, sensing missed exposure for its advertisers, offered the show's producers "Showbill" instead. [18]

Additionally, Playbill responded further by producing publications for classic arts venues, aggressively courting many venues that were once Stagebill clients. In the spring of 2002, Playbill signed a contract with Carnegie Hall; this milestone was bookended by the earlier acquisition of the valuable Metropolitan Opera program and the ensuing contract with the New York Philharmonic—both tenants of Stagebill's erstwhile stronghold Lincoln Center. [16] With the acquisition of the programs for performing arts venues, Playbill broke from its typical format and began publishing completely customized programs in the vein of Stagebill. [17] This, coupled with continuing fiscal troubles, signaled the end of Stagebill as a publishing entity; later that year, Stagebill became insolvent after five years of head-to-head competition with Playbill, which acquired the Stagebill trademark. [19]

Museum of Broadway

Playbill is a founding member of the Museum of Broadway. [20]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Patti LuPone</span> American actress and singer

Patti Ann LuPone is an American actress and singer best known for her work in musical theater. After starting her professional career with The Acting Company in 1972 she soon gained acclaim for her leading performances on the Broadway and West End stage. She has won three Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards, and two Grammy Awards, and was a 2006 inductee to the American Theater Hall of Fame.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Broadway theatre</span> Type of theatre in New York City

Broadway theatre, or Broadway, is a theater genre that consists of the theatrical performances presented in 41 professional theaters, each with 500 or more seats, in the Theater District and Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Broadway and London's West End together represent the highest commercial level of live theater in the English-speaking world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Winter Garden Theatre</span> Broadway theater in Manhattan, New York

The Winter Garden Theatre is a Broadway theatre at 1634 Broadway in the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of New York City. Originally designed by architect William Albert Swasey, it opened in 1911. The Winter Garden's current design dates to 1922, when it was completely remodeled by Herbert J. Krapp. Due to the size of its auditorium, stage, and backstage facilities, it is favored for large musical productions. It has 1,600 seats and is operated by The Shubert Organization. The auditorium interior is a New York City landmark.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Public Theater</span> Arts organization in New York City

The Public Theater is an arts organization in New York City. Founded by Joseph Papp, The Public Theater was originally the Shakespeare Workshop in 1954; its mission was to support emerging playwrights and performers. Its first production was the musical Hair in 1967. Since Papp, the theatre has been led by JoAnne Akalaitis (1991–1993), and George C. Wolfe (1993–2004), and is currently under Artistic Director Oskar Eustis and Executive Director Patrick Willingham.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Judy Kuhn</span> American actress and singer (born 1958)

Judy Kuhn is an American actress, singer and activist, known for her work in musical theatre. A four-time Tony Award nominee, she has released four studio albums and sang the title role in the 1995 film Pocahontas, including her rendition of the song "Colors of the Wind", which won its composers the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New Amsterdam Theatre</span> Broadway theater in Manhattan, New York

The New Amsterdam Theatre is a Broadway theater at 214 West 42nd Street, at the southern end of Times Square, in the Theater District of Manhattan in New York City. One of the first Broadway venues to open in the Times Square neighborhood, the New Amsterdam was built from 1902 to 1903 to designs by Herts & Tallant. The theater is operated by Disney Theatrical Productions and has 1,702 seats across three levels. Both the Beaux-Arts exterior and the Art Nouveau interior of the building are New York City landmarks, and the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Disney Theatrical Productions</span> Subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company

Disney Theatrical Productions Limited (DTP), also known as Disney on Broadway, is the stageplay and musical production company of the Disney Theatrical Group, a subsidiary of Disney Entertainment, a major division and business unit of The Walt Disney Company.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eden Espinosa</span> American actress and singer (born 1978)

Eden Erica Espinosa is an American actress and singer who is best known for her performances as Elphaba for the Broadway, Los Angeles, and San Francisco productions of the musical Wicked. In 2022, she was nominated for the Children's and Family Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice Performance in a Preschool Animated Program for her role as the Queen of Hearts in Alice's Wonderland Bakery.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nederlander Theatre</span> Broadway theater in Manhattan, New York

The Nederlander Theatre is a Broadway theater at 208 West 41st Street in the Theater District of Midtown Manhattan in New York City. Opened in 1921, it was designed by William Neil Smith for theatrical operator Walter C. Jordan. It has around 1,235 seats across two levels and is operated by the Nederlander Organization. Since 1980, it has been named for American theater impresario David Tobias Nederlander, father of theatrical producer James M. Nederlander. It is the southernmost Broadway theater in the Theater District.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brian d'Arcy James</span> American actor and musician

Brian d'Arcy James is an American actor and musician. He is known primarily for his Broadway roles, including Shrek in Shrek The Musical, Nick Bottom in Something Rotten!, King George III in Hamilton, and the Baker in Into the Woods, and has received four Tony Award nominations for his work. On-screen, he is known for his recurring role as Andy Baker on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, Officer Krupke in West Side Story, and reporter Matt Carroll in Spotlight.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alice Ripley</span> American actress

Alice Ripley is an American actress, singer, songwriter and mixed media artist. She is known, in particular, for her various roles on Broadway in musicals, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal and Side Show. She most recently played three roles in the short-lived Broadway musical, American Psycho. Alice Ripley has released albums with her band, RIPLEY, including the single, "Beautiful Eyes", released in February 2012. She also performs as a solo artist, while in February 2011 she released Alice Ripley Daily Practice, Volume 1, a stripped-down collection of acoustic rock covers.

The Broadway League, formerly the League of American Theatres and Producers and League of New York Theatres and Producers, is the national trade association for the Broadway theatre industry based in New York, New York. Its members include theatre owners and operators, producers, presenters, and general managers in New York and more than 250 other North American cities, as well as suppliers of goods and services to the theatre industry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Norm Lewis</span> American actor, singer

Norm Lewis is an American actor and baritone singer. He has appeared on Broadway, in the West End, film, television, recordings and regional theatre. He’s also noted for his wide vocal range. Lewis was the second African-American actor after Robert Guillaume to perform in the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera and the first one to do so in the Broadway production. In 2023, he reprised the role in the show's sequel, Love Never Dies, in London's West End.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Disney Theatrical Group</span> Stage production division of Walt Disney Studios

Buena Vista Theatrical Group Ltd., doing business as the Disney Theatrical Group, is the live show, stageplay and musical production arm of The Walt Disney Company. The company is led by Thomas Schumacher, Anne Quart, and Andrew Flatt, and is a division of Walt Disney Studios, forming a part of Disney Entertainment, one of the three major business segments of The Walt Disney Company.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tom Kitt (musician)</span> American composer and musician

Thomas Robert Kitt is an American composer, conductor, orchestrator, and musician. For his score for the musical Next to Normal, he shared the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama with Brian Yorkey. He has also won two Tony Awards and an Outer Critics Circle Award for Next to Normal, as well as Tony and Outer Critics Circle nominations for If/Then and SpongeBob SquarePants. He has been nominated for eight Drama Desk Awards, winning one, and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album for Jagged Little Pill in 2021.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger is an American actor and filmmaker. He is best known for originating the roles of Crutchie in Newsies and Jesse Tuck in Tuck Everlasting on Broadway. His other Broadway credits include Robertson Ay in Mary Poppins, Jojo in Seussical, and Chip in Beauty and the Beast.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gordon Greenberg</span>

Gordon Greenberg is an American stage director, a theater and television writer, and an Artistic Associate at The New Group.

<i>Newsies</i> (musical) American musical by Alan Menken, Jack Feldman, and Harvey Fierstein

Newsies: The Musical is a musical with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Fierstein. The show is based on the 1992 musical film of the same name, which in turn was inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City, with Fierstein's script adapted from the film's screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phillipa Soo</span> American actress

Phillipa Anne Soo is an American actress and singer. Known for her leading roles on Broadway primarily in musicals, she has received two Grammy Awards along with nominations for a Tony Award and a Primetime Emmy Award.

Stagebill was a monthly U.S. magazine for theatregoers. Most copies of the publication were printed for particular productions and distributed at the door as the show's program. It was launched as a direct rival to the highly successful monthly Playbill. But after five years of head-to-head competition with Playbill, Stagebill became insolvent and was acquired by its rival which also kept the Stagebill trademark.


  1. "National Rate Card" (PDF). Playbill. January 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  2. "Inside description of ownership". The Playbill. 1939.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "The fascinating history of theater program". The Smith Center. July 13, 2020. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  4. 1 2 3 Culwell-Block, Logan (August 24, 2018). "The Evolution of the Playbill Design From 1885–2018". Playbill. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  5. 1 2 "The Magazine Theatre Program". Dumbarton Oaks. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  6. "Gilman Kraft, 73, Performing Arts Publisher". The New York Times. July 5, 1999. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved June 10, 2022.
  7. Walsh, Kevin (May 23, 2014). "Playbill's the Thing in Woodside". Brownstoner. Retrieved February 12, 2024.
  8. "Wicked Playbill Will Be Greenified for 10th Anniversary on Broadway". Playbill. September 30, 2013. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  9. Dries, Kate. "Daily Rehearsal: Theater nerds rejoice over Playbill Vault". WBEZ Onstage/Backstage. Archived from the original on December 5, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  10. "Playbill Memory Vault 2012 - 2016". December 6, 2016. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  11. "Playbill Passport App Launches: The First-Ever Mobile Companion to Broadway Programs". Playbill. March 6, 2016. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  12. Reid, Kerry (April 9, 2021). "Show them the money". Chicago Reader . Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  13. Martinko, Irene (April 26, 2021). "Looking at the activism that led to pay transparency on Playbill and BroadwayWorld's job postings". OnStage Blog. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  14. 1 2 3 4 Pincus-Roth, Zachary (October 18, 2007). "Ask Playbill". Playbill. Archived from the original on September 14, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  15. Jones, Chris (June 10, 2002). "Stagebill is sold to rival Playbill". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  16. 1 2 Brodesser, Claude; Jones, Oliver (March 9, 1999). "Melodrama at Met". Variety . Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  17. 1 2 Mandell, Jonathan (August 25, 2002). "Theater's memory bank expands". The New York Times . Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  18. "Playbill? Showbill? Stagebill?". March 19, 1998. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  19. Hofler, Robert (June 9, 2002). "Playbill corners legit market". Variety . Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  20. Rahmanan, Anna. "EXCLUSIVE: The Museum of Broadway has an official opening date!". TimeOut. Retrieved June 17, 2022.