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Whenever I visit New York City, I have to see a Broadway show, usually several. I’m a consummate theatergoer and love both musicals and plays and will attend performances wherever and whenever I can.
But Broadway’s special and there’s nothing more exciting than being amid its bright lights. I’m always giddy with anticipation sitting in the audience waiting for the curtain to rise, then being treated to a few immersive hours of topnotch, inspiring entertainment.
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Celebrate All Things Broadway at the Museum of Broadway
You can imagine my joy when I heard that the Great White Way is now home to the Museum of Broadway. And you can bet that I made a beeline for it on my recent trip to the Big Apple.
Opened over a year ago, it’s the first-ever permanent museum dedicated to showcasing the rich history of Broadway.
Conceived to honor its storied past and the legendary artistry of Broadway musicals, plays and theaters, the museum was built for the fans and community as a place to celebrate all things that make Broadway magical.
The museum is the brainchild of entrepreneur and two-time Tony Award-winning producer, Julie Boardman, and founder of award-winning experiential agency Rubik Marketing, Diane Nicoletti.
Located on W. 45th Street, steps away from Times Square, the space is 26,000 square feet and spans across four floors. So, yes, allow a few hours for your visit!
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Broadway Past and Present on Display
Once through the doors, you’ll embark on a self-guided, interactive journey along the timeline of Broadway, from its 18th-century origins to the present. Exhibits are devoted to the shows and the people who create them, featuring the work of dozens of designers, artists and theater historians.
The array of costumes and props on display is amazing, as is the sheer number of educational elements that visitors can absorb as they learn how shows go from story to script to stage.
You’ll Be Surprised to Learn How Many Broadway Theaters There Are
You’ll start your experience in the Map Room, which features a map of all 41 Broadway theatres. Any venue with 500 seats or more, located along Broadway in the city’s Theatre District is considered a Broadway theatre.
Among the oldest are the Lyceum and the New Amsterdam. The Lyceum was built in 1903 and has the additional distinction of being the oldest continually operating theatre and the first to receive landmark status.
Artifacts Abound Among the Many Exhibits
Guests travel through a visual history of Broadway, highlighting groundbreaking moments through a series of exhibits that showcase spectacular, original and revival costumes (everything from the little red dress worn in “Annie,” an orange, head-to-toe jumpsuit from “Mamma Mia” and masks from “The Lion King” to Jennifer Hudson’s costume from “The Color Purple,” a pair of knee-high, lace-up, red boots from “Kinky Boots,” a red, brass buttoned, military jacket worn in “HAIR,” the band hats worn by Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in “The Music Man,” and much, much more), props, renderings, rare photos, playbills, marked-up scripts, set models, etc.
Hundreds of Productions Are Showcased in Colorful Detail
The museum highlights more than 500 individual productions, featuring such phenoms as “The Phantom of The Opera,” “The Lion King,” “Cats,” “HAIR,” “West Side Story,” “The Wiz,” “Cabaret,” “Rent,” “Oklahoma!” “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” “Hello Dolly” and others.
Along the way, guests learn about how some of these shows transformed the landscape of Broadway – “the moments that pushed creative boundaries, challenged social norms, and paved the way for those who would follow.”
In one of the early rooms on the tour route, the Ziegfeld Follies are spotlighted with artifacts like elaborate costumes bursting with rhinestones and features, gold shoes, a gold purse and a tiara that the “Ziegfeld girls” wore.
Showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. launched the follies in 1907 on a rooftop garden. A new version of the show was presented annually until 1925, then intermittently thereafter until 1931.
The lavish productions were in the tradition of Parisian musical revues with scantily clad chorus lines of beautiful women, kicking their long, shapely legs in perfect choreographed sequence.
These “kick lines” and the formations they used are still familiar in musical staging today.
Artifacts from the landmark musical “Showboat” are presented nearby, accompanied by speakers blasting out “Old Man River.” The production, which opened in 1927 demonstrated “maturity of the American musical” with its treatment of serious issues and contemporary themes.
The main eye-catching prop of the “Oklahoma” room is tall stalks of corn – not sure if they’re “as high as an elephant’s eye,” but they will certainly give you that “beautiful morning” feeling!
Enjoy the production stills and a video of some of the dancing and check out Oscar Hammerstein II’s penciled lyric ideas for words that rhyme with “surrey.” You know the song!
Photos and caricatures of the original Dolly, Carol Channing, are featured in the “Hello Dolly” room. Plus, you’ll see a mannikin with the headdress worn by Bette Midler, who also played the role, along with the dress worn by her replacement, Bernadette Peters, in the 2018 revival.
Step Inside Scenes from ‘West Side Story’
“West Side Story” gets the most elaborate design with a jukebox, neon drugstore sign and an old-fashioned, fully stocked drugstore countertop, as well as an imitation rooftop with a video of two performers dancing in shadow profile against a striking red backdrop.
Such sets, which have been constructed specifically for the museum, are magnets for visitors, who can place themselves within their favorite shows via selfies or pics taken by their friends.
“Cabaret” was a Broadway game-changer. Set in Berlin as the Nazis were coming to power, it was a musical that dared to explore dark themes. A reconstructed set from the number, “Mein Herr” is featured, alongside costumes and movie posters.
Despite the audience being stunned into silence on opening night of the show in 1966, “Cabaret” became a huge hit. It went on to win eight Tonys, including one for the incomparable Joel Grey, whose star continued to shine bright when he also earned the Oscar for the movie version in 1972.
“Phantom of the Opera” receives its obvious due, too, with costumes and artifacts, including the original monkey music box and the iconic white mask that has become a symbol of the show worldwide.
Later, in the “Making of a Broadway Show” exhibit, you can get a behind-the-scenes look at how this mask is made.
Check Out the Wizardry of ‘Wicked’
“Wicked” fans will love the five-foot scale model of the Gershwin Theatre (where the production is housed) which shows just how many people it takes to make the wizardry happen on stage and what the venue looks like behind the scenes.
Another model that visitors will appreciate is from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.” This set prototype features tiny storefronts and mini pictures of the show’s cast members.
For more of Miranda’s work, you can geek out over the costumes worn in “Hamilton,” including the pair of boots the man himself sported.
Fosse and Sondheim Get Their Due
Bob Fosse and Stephen Sondheim take centerstage in another exhibit. Fosse was a highly regarded dancer, choreographer and director, who was an influential figure in the field of jazz dance.
He is best known for his work on such musicals as “Chicago,” “Cabaret,” and “Sweet Chariot.” And he is the only person ever to have won Oscar, Emmy and Tony awards in the same year (1973) for directing “Cabaret,” “Pippin” and “Liza with a Z.”
Multiple award-winning lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim is a name that’s also inscribed in the hearts and minds of Broadway aficionados everywhere.
We have him to thank for the multitude of songs from musicals like “Company,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Into the Woods,” “West Side Story, “Follies” and others.
You’ll discover that Sondheim had a penchant for puzzles and word games. Try your hand at the one on display, if you’re into such teasers, particularly anagrams.
Pay Homage to All Those Who Bring a Broadway Show to Fruition
For a behind-the-scenes look at this beloved art form, spend some time in the impeccably curated exhibit, “The Making of a Broadway Show.”
The various displays here pay homage to the community of gifted professionals, both onstage and off, who bring the plays and musicals to life every night.
Video interviews and texts explain the many different backstage specialists that work to make a show happen, from dramatists, stagehands and sound and set designers to makeup artists, costumers, lighting techs and even marketers.
Those interested in pursuing theatre as a career will appreciate the encouraging message provided on one of the wall labels: “Maybe you struggle to relate to some of the specialized jobs you’ve heard about in the exhibition, yet you still have a burning passion to work in the theatre. Theatre has a place for you.”
Applause for ‘Chicago’ – The Longest Running American Musical
The newest special exhibit at the museum, “CHICAGO. ALL THAT JAZZ: The Legacy of CHICAGO the Musical, which opened last summer, is a retrospective of the show’s 26 years on Broadway.
It’s the longest-running American musical and the longest-running show currently playing on Broadway, having played over 10,000 performances since its opening in 1996. And it’s also played in 38 countries and performed in 13 different languages worldwide.
Some of the actors that have graced the show over the years include Ann Reinking, Brooke Shields, Bebe Neuwirth, Joel Grey, Melanie Griffith, Usher, Wayne Brady, Christie Brinkley and Sofia Vergara.
The show’s astounding popularity and endurance is due to its extraordinary dance numbers and the songs that tell the story, which are timeless.
You might find yourself belting out one of the numbers or tapping your feet, as you peruse the iconic production’s artifacts and stunning costumes. You can even feel like you’re a part of the show in an exclusive photoactivation.
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Author Bio: Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries spanning all seven continents, and her stories appear in numerous print and digital publications.
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