Everything you need to know about 'Death of a Salesman' on Broadway
Now that it's getting a fifth Broadway revival, learn more about one of the most celebrated American plays in history.
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman became a near-instant classic when the play premiered in 1949. His story of a man coming to terms with his failings toward the end of his life was sharp and poignant in the 50s and has only gotten more so with time. Though some audiences at the first Death of a Salesman film didn't want to see a story about a man chasing the American Dream of financial wealth and falling short, stage audiences have always welcomed the show, and this cautionary tale about putting money over family remains more timely than ever.
The latest Death of a Salesman production to hit New York — the sixth overall — premiered in London in 2019, with The Wire star Wendell Pierce and Caroline, or Change Tony Award nominee Sharon D Clarke playing the central couple of Willy and Linda Loman. Now, these acclaimed stars are bringing an equally acclaimed play back to the Broadway stage. Before you head to the Hudson Theatre to see them, discover more about these performers, the history of Death of a Salesman, and the many other celebrities who have tackled this iconic play.
What is Death of a Salesman about?
Death of a Salesman is about Willy Loman, a middle-aged traveling salesman living in 1940s New York. He is 63 when the play begins, but the show jumps back and forth between the past and present. In the present, Willy's career is in limbo, and he's upset with his sons for failing to live up to his expectations — especially his older son, Biff, who was supposed to become a businessman like him but never made it to college. In focusing solely on Biff's — and his own — material success to define them, he's alienated his sons. Willy's wife, Linda, tries to support him and her sons no matter how bad things get.
Two types of memories from the past show up in between the present scenes in Death of a Salesman. Some are fabricated memories of Willy's about his and his sons' youth, which Willy idealizes to comfort himself. He wants to feel like things were once great for him and his family, and that they can still go on to live extraordinarily successful lives. The other type of memories creep in later — the real, more somber ones, which remind Willy of his failings as a father and worker that cause his current unhappiness. Overall, the play is a portrait of what goes on in one man's mind as he comes to terms with the realities of his life, though perhaps too late to change them.
Where is Death of a Salesman playing?
Death of a Salesman is running on Broadway in fall 2022 at the Hudson Theatre. The Hudson Theatre is located at 141 West 44th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue. It is simultaneously Broadway's oldest and newest theatre: oldest because the building first opened in 1903, and newest because it was newly renovated and reopened as a Broadway theatre in 2017. In between, the theatre was converted into a nightclub, movie theatre, and more throughout the 20th century.
How long is Death of a Salesman?
The running time of Death of a Salesman is approximately 3 hours with one intermission. This is on the longer end of a normal Broadway show; most run between two and three hours. It is recommended that you eat before the show, though the Hudson Theatre has a bar that serves drinks and some small snacks.
What days is Death of a Salesman playing?
On Broadway, Death of a Salesman typically plays eight performances a week at the Hudson Theatre. In September, performances run every day except Sunday. From October onward, performances run Tuesday to Sunday, with two performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays and no performances on Mondays. For the most up-to-date weekly performance schedule, please visit the Death of a Salesman page.
When did Death of a Salesman premiere?
Death of a Salesman has been around for more than 70 years, having premiered in 1949. Since then, the show has spawned six Broadway revivals and countless international productions, as well as adaptations for TV, film, and radio. When the show premiered, the Great Depression was still fresh in the national consciousness, which largely inspired Miller to write a play critiquing the American Dream and putting material success above all. Here's a brief history of Death of a Salesman, from its premiere to now.
- Early 1900s: Miller writes a short story about a failing salesman as a child. He revisited it decades later and expanded it into Death of a Salesman in the 1940s.
- 1949: Death of a Salesman premieres on Broadway, starring Lee J. Cobb as Willy. The show is an instant success, receiving critical acclaim, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Tony Award for Best Play.
- 1951: Death of a Salesman is adapted into a movie starring Fredric March as Willy Loman. It was the first of 10 film adaptations of the play.
- 1975: Death of a Salesman is revived on Broadway for the first time, starring George C. Scott as Willy. He received that production's sole Tony nomination.
- 1984: Death of a Salesman gets its second Broadway revival, this time with Dustin Hoffman in the lead. The leading cast of this production starred in a film adaptation of the play a year later.
- 1999: The play has its 50th anniversary, and a third Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman goes up. Brian Dennehy played Willy and went on to star in a Death of a Salesman film adaptation a year later.
- 2012: Death of a Salesman gets its fourth Broadway revival. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman starred as Willy, and Andrew Garfield made his Broadway debut as Biff.
- 2019: Wendell Pierce and Sharon D Clarke star in Death of a Salesman in London, first at the Young Vic theatre and later at the West End's Piccadilly Theatre. Both productions received rave reviews, and Clarke and directors Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell received Olivier Awards.
- 2022: The Pierce/Clarke production of Death of a Salesman transfers to Broadway, marking the play's fifth revival there. It is also the first Death of a Salesman Broadway production to feature a Black Loman family.
Who wrote Death of a Salesman?
Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman in the 1940s. Miller was an American playwright and screenwriter who lived from 1915 to 2005. Death of a Salesman is widely regarded not just as the best of his works, but one of the best American plays of the 1900s. His other best-known works are the plays The Crucible and All My Sons, both of which he wrote the screenplays for (alongside Salesman), and A View From the Bridge. His other best-known screenplay was for the 1961 movie The Misfits.
All in all, Miller's body of work includes 50 stage and radio plays, 7 screenplays, and a dozen books. Among Miller's many awards are a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for Death of a Salesman) and the Kennedy Center Honors. Miller is also best known as the third husband of Golden Age movie star Marilyn Monroe.
Death of a Salesman characters
The main characters of Death of a Salesman are the members of the Loman family, plus a few friends and neighbors that have been in the titular salesman's life for a long time. Learn more about all the major characters in Death of a Salesman.
- Willy Loman: The salesman of the play's title. Willy is 63 years old and unhappy with his life. He relies on falsified, idealized memories of his past to make him feel better and give him hope for the future. Over the course of the play, he has to come to terms with the fact that his life was not and continues not to be perfect, and he holds some of the responsibility for that.
- Linda Loman: Willy's wife. She is fiercely loyal and supportive to him even though he often mistreats her, and even though she knows he's deluding himself with his hopes. She tries to hold the Loman family together, encouraging her sons to support their father more and vice versa.
- Biff Loman: Willy's older son. He works as a farmhand in the West, but returns to visit his family in New York to try and become a businessman, which Willy wanted for him. Willy is upset that Biff failed high school math and therefore never got into college-level business school, which is a major conflict for them throughout the play.
- Happy Loman: Willy's younger son. He does work in the business world, as an assistant to an assistant buyer at a store, but takes bribes in order to get ahead. His dishonesty stems from his attention-seeking nature, as at home, he's always been in his brother's shadow. He gives his parents money and tries to mediate their arguments so they'll pay attention to him, but it rarely works.
- Charley: The Lomans' neighbor. Like Linda, Willy doesn't always treat Charley well, though Charley remains friendly to Willy. He repeatedly offers Willy a job because he senses Willy's unhappiness, but Willy always declines.
- Bernard: Charley's son, who grows up to be a lawyer. As a boy, Charley looked up to Biff, but ended up becoming more successful than him, which makes Willy jealous.
- Uncle Ben: Willy's brother. He dies long before the events of the play, but he appears in Willy's memories. Though the two weren't close in real life, Willy looks up to him and hears Ben speak to him in his flashbacks.
What awards has Death of a Salesman won?
Death of a Salesman's many Broadway productions and film adaptations have won it lots of awards, and Miller has separately earned multiple honors for simply writing the play. Here are the major awards Death of a Salesman has won from page to stage to screen.
- Pulitzer Prize: Death of a Salesman won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
- Tony Awards: Death of a Salesman has won a total of 13 Tony Awards. The 1949 premiere production won all six awards it was nominated for, including Best Play, Best Author of a Play, Best Producer of a Play (for Kermit Bloomgarden and Walter Fried), Best Featured Actor in a Play (for Arthur Kennedy as Biff), Best Director, and Best Scenic Design. The 1984, 1999, and 2012 revivals would all win the Best Revival Tony.
- Drama Desk Awards: Just like at the Tonys, the 1984, 1999, and 2012 revivals all won the Best Revival award at the Drama Desks. Each revival also won two additional Drama Desk Awards, for acting in 1984 and 1999 and for direction and lighting design in 2012.
- Outer Critics Circle Award: The 1984 and 2012 productions of Death of a Salesman each picked up the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Revival, and an actor each from 1984 and 1999 won awards for their performances: John Malkovich and Kevin Anderson, respectively, both as Biff.
- Golden Globe Awards: The 1951 Death of a Salesman film won four Golden Globes: Best Director (for László Benedek), Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama (for Fredric March as Willy), Best Cinematography – Black and White, and New Star of the Year (for Kevin McCarthy as Biff). The 1985 film adaptation won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, for Dustin Hoffman reprising his Broadway role as Willy.
- Emmy Awards: The 1985 Death of a Salesman won three Emmys: Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Special, Outstanding Lead Actor - Miniseries or a Movie (for Dustin Hoffman), Outstanding Supporting Actor - Miniseries or a Movie (for Malkovich, also reprising his Broadway role).
- Olivier Awards: The 2019 London production, which is opening on Broadway in 2022, won the Olivier Awards for Best Actress (for Sharon D Clarke) and Best Director (for Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell).
Major productions of Death of a Salesman
There have been six major Broadway engagements of Death of a Salesman plus multiple notable international productions, one of which Miller even directed himself. Check out all the major productions of Death of a Salesman worldwide.
- 1949 Broadway premiere: Death of a Salesman premiered to Broadway and the world on February 10, 1949. Acclaimed film director Elia Kazan helmed the production. Death of a Salesman received critical acclaim and the Tony Award for Best Play. Lee J. Cobb and Mildred Dunnock originated the roles of the Loman couple.
- 1949 London premiere: A few short months after the Broadway opening, Death of a Salesman premiered in London on July 28, 1949. Kazan directed once again, and though London reviews were more mixed than New York ones, Kazan got praise for his direction.
- 1975 Broadway revival: This was the first revival of Death of a Salesman on Broadway. The production got one Tony nomination, for George C. Scott as Willy.
- 1983 Chinese premiere: Death of a Salesman had its Chinese premiere on May 7, 1983, at the Beijing People’s Art Theater. It at first seemed like a difficult undertaking: The production marked Miller's first time directing Death of a Salesman, the production was in Chinese, and many of the Chinese actors were unfamiliar with the American concepts discussed in the show. However, the relationship between Willy and his sons, and the pressure he puts on them to succeed, resonated with the Chinese people, and by focusing the production on that, Death of a Salesman played to great success.
- 1984 Broadway revival: Dustin Hoffman led the second Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman. It was his second-to-last Broadway role through today (he played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in 1989).
- 1999 Broadway revival: This Broadway revival, the play's third, marked the 50th anniversary of Death of a Salesman. Brian Dennehy starred as Willy.
- 2012 Broadway revival: This was the most recent Death of a Salesman revival prior to 2022, and it featured a starry cast, including Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy and Andrew Garfield in his Broadway debut as Biff.
- 2019 London revival: This production was the first time Wendell Pierce and Sharon D Clarke stared in Death of a Salesman together. The production originated at the Off-West End Young Vic theatre and later transferred to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End. Clarke received an Olivier Award, as did co-directors Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell.
- 2022 Broadway revival: This is the fifth Death of a Salesman revival, with Pierce and Clarke reprising their London roles. It is the first Death of a Salesman Broadway production with a Black Loman family. Cromwell, originally co-directing with Elliott, directs the Broadway transfer solo.
Celebrities who have performed in Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman, being a revered play with complex characters to dig into, has attracted tons of celebrities since its premiere. Here are just a few of the major stars that have tackled the Lomans and their neighbors through the years.
- Dustin Hoffman: Hoffman played Willy Loman in the 1984 Death of a Salesman Broadway revival and in the TV film adaptation a year later. His screen performance earned him a Golden Globe Award.
- Philip Seymour Hoffman: Hoffman also starred as Willy in the 2012 revival. It was his third and final Broadway performance before his death in 2014, and as with his two previous performances (in Long Day's Journey into Night and True West), he earned a Tony nomination.
- Andrew Garfield: Garfield played Biff Loman to Hoffman's Willy in 2012. The show marked Garfield's Broadway debut, and he earned a Tony nomination for his performance.
- Bill Camp: Camp played Charley in the 2012 Death of a Salesman revival. The 12 Years a Slave and Joker actor would also star in another Miller revival four years later: The Crucible in 2016, alongside Saiorse Ronan.
- Wendell Pierce: Pierce stars as Willy Loman in the 2022 Death of a Salesman Broadway revival after doing so in London and earning an Olivier Award nomination there. Pierce's last Broadway performance was in 1988's Serious Money, and he's best known for his screen roles in shows like The Wire and Suits.
- Sharon D Clarke: Clarke made her Broadway debut in 2021, reprising her Olivier Award-winning performance in the title role of Caroline, or Change and earning a Tony nomination on this side of the pond. She played Linda Loman to Pierce's Willy in London (earning her most recent of three Oliviers) and reprises that role in New York.
- André De Shields: De Shields is a Broadway veteran who won a Tony Award for portraying Hermes in Hadestown. Now that he has departed that production, he steps into the role of Uncle Ben in Death of a Salesman. His other Broadway credits include The Wiz and Ain't Misbehavin', which earned him an Emmy Award.
Onscreen adaptations of Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman has had 10 film adaptations worldwide, four of which are American movies made either for the big screen or TV. Multiple of these films also saw the various Broadway productions' actors reprise their roles. Learn more about the Death of a Salesman film adaptations below.
- 1951: The first Death of a Salesman movie, directed by László Benedek, came out two years after the play's premiere. Alex North, who wrote the score for the Broadway premiere, also scored the film and got an Oscar nomination. The movie was a critical and awards hit, winning four Golden Globe Awards and earning five Academy Award nominations. Interestingly, though, the movie flopped at the box office because 1950s audiences didn't want to see a story about the failure of an American worker.
- 1966: CBS aired a TV film adaptation of Death of a Salesman starring Lee J. Cobb, Gene Wilder, and Mildred Dunnock; Cobb and Dunnock reprised their 1949 Broadway roles as Willy and Linda Loman, respectively. (Dunnock also played Linda in the 1951 movie.) Miller himself adapted his play for this movie, which ultimately won three Emmy Awards, a Directors Guild of America Award, and a Peabody Award. Cobb and Dunnock also got a Grammy Award nomination for Best Spoken Word, Documentary or Drama Recording.
- 1985: The next TV film adaptation of Death of a Salesman didn't come for nearly 20 years. Similarly to the 1966 film, the 1985 one had actors reprise their roles from the stage. Dustin Hoffman, Kate Reid, John Malkovich, and Stephen Lang, who played the Loman family in the 1984 Broadway revival, did the same for this film. Hoffman won Golden Globe and Emmy Awards, and Malkovich also won an Emmy.
- 2000: Like Hoffman, Brian Dennehy won a Golden Globe Award for starring in a Death of a Salesman film adaptation after playing Willy on Broadway (in 1999). The film also received two Emmy nominations.
- International films: Death of a Salesman has received two British film adaptations (in 1966 and 1985), two Swedish films, a German film, and a Russian (then-Soviet) film. The play also features heavily in a 2016 Iranian/French film called The Salesman.
Fun facts about Death of a Salesman
Find out even more facts about Miller's classic play, from where he got his inspiration to what Willy Loman's name means.
- Death of a Salesman was inspired by Miller's relationship with his uncle, the salesman Manny Newman. Newman always compared his own son Abby's success to Miller's, putting the two in constant competition. This inspired Miller to revisit a manuscript about a salesman he'd written earlier and base the character of Willy on Newman. Miller talked to his cousin about Newman in 1948, and something Abby actually said in that conversation — "He wanted a business for us. So we could all work together. A business for the boys" — made it into the Death of a Salesman script.
- Death of a Salesman is the latest of multiple Miller revivals on Broadway in recent years. The Crucible played the Walter Kerr Theatre in 2016, starring Saiorse Ronan, and All My Sons got a 2019 revival at Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre, starring Tracy Letts and Annette Bening.
- Keep an eye out for mentions of two objects Miller uses as symbols: seeds and diamonds. In Death of a Salesman, seeds represent Willy's attempts to "cultivate" success for himself and Biff by going into business. Diamonds represent success, not just because they're any old valuable, but because they're a valuable that's just out of reach for Willy — Uncle Ben made a fortune in the diamond industry.
- What do Miller's Death of a Salesman and Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night have in common? Besides both being shortlisted as the greatest 20th-century American plays, they've shared lots of actors. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brian Dennehy, and Fredric March have all starred as Willy Loman in Salesman and James Tyrone in Journey. Camp also starred as James in Journey after playing Charley in Salesman.
- Miller wrote Death of a Salesman at a cabin he built near his family home in Roxbury, Connecticut. As he wrote the show, he documented its creation in a journal, which ended up at 66 pages long and is kept at the University of Texas - Austin as part of a collection of Miller's papers.
- Since the play's publication, many people have interpreted the last name Loman as an indicator of Willy's status as a failure, since it sounds like "low man." However, Miller dismissed this theory. A less contested interpretation is of Willy's first name sounding like "Will he?" This interpretation echoes a lot of the questions in the play — will he succeed? Will he change?
How to get Death of a Salesman tickets
Death of a Salesman is a landmark show in theatre history. If you want to see one of the most beloved American dramas there is with a pair of world-class actors at the helm, you won't want to miss this Death of a Salesman. The show is only running for four months, so don't be like Willy and let your opportunity pass you by.