it's easy to forget that the latter-day dominance of the small-cast play is a fairly recent development in theatrical history. Large casts used to be the rule, not the exception. Indeed, most of the best-known American plays of the 20th century called for performing forces that would now be seen by penny-pinching producers as insanely extravagant. Tennessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire," for instance, was written for a cast of 12, while Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" requires 13 actors, eight men and five women. As for Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," it's usually performed by some two dozen actors, and the original 1938 Broadway production fielded a cast of 51. Might we have lost something by forcing contemporary playwrights to work on a smaller canvas?
Of course, we wouldn't have to "force" them if the money were there to mount such works. Playwrights are chomping at the bit, I assure you!
(By the way... fifty-one people in Our Town? Wow.)
FYI, here is that most recent Top 10 list, an aggregation of season schedules across the country for 2012-2013:
Good People (17) [# of productions nationwide]
Clybourne Park (15)
The Whipping Man (14) [cast size: 3]
Next to Normal (13)
The Mountaintop (12) [cast size: 2]
Red (11) [cast size: 2]
Time Stands Still (10) [cast size: 4]
Other Desert Cities (10)
The Motherfucker with the Hat (9)
A Raisin in the Sun (8)
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (8)