Tuesday, February 5, 2019

A Short HIstory of Broadway.

New York City, Manhattan, 34Th Street If you watch enough TV or Movies, there is always that one character who is trying to make it on Broadway but the closest they've gotten is an off-off-off-Broadway show that last one night or one week before shutting down.

I have only been to New York a few times and that was when I spent time in one of the airports between planes.  I've never been to the city, mostly because I've never had a reason but friends of mine go to conferences and always try to find a ticket to some show.  Time for a bit of history on Broadway and its theaters in New York City. Broadway does not refer to a street persay, it refers to a district.

It began back in 1750 when two men opened a theater on Nassau street in New York.  It sat 280 people when full and focused on presenting Shakespeare and  ballad operas.  One of the most famous ballad operas of the time was "The Begger's Opera" by John Gray.  Unfortunately, the revolutionary war caused all theaters to shut down but they began reopening in 1798 with the construction of the Park Theater which seated 2000 people.

Once the Park Theater proved it's success, the Bowery theater opened in 1826, followed by more and more theaters.  The most popular type of show at this time in history were the blackface minstrel shows.  In fact, Niblo's Garden was considered a night spot, it was more of a theater because it presented both musical and non-musical acts.

During the 1840's P.T. Barnum opened his entertainment complex in Lower Manhattan, and another theater The Ascot was built during the same decade but met with protests because the lower class disliked the superior attitude of the rich who visited the theater. This riot lead to a class system of theater showings.  The rich went to the operas, the middle class attended the melodramas, and the lower class enjoyed variety shows.

In addition, the musical as we know it premiered in 1866 with the  opening of the "Black Crook", a show that lasted for 5.5 hours and lasted for 474 performances.  Shortly after, Burlesque began and within 20 years, Vaudeville joined the ranks of entertainment in New York City.  However, real estate prices were climbing so theaters began moving to Broadway near Madison Square and Union Station.

Transportation helped eliminate poverty in the area so that plays made more money because they ran longer, prostitutes moved out so more woman ventured to the theaters, and light operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan became the rage.  Just after the turn of the century in the early 1900's, electric lights hit Broadway theaters beginning with the Red Mill.  Theaters preferred using white light bulbs since the colored ones burned out so much quicker.  This is why Broadway gained the nickname of "The Great White Way."

During the 1920's, most shows had  little plot because they were written to showcase the lead actor or actress.  This was also the time of Zigfield Follies with their song and dance became quite popular.  Then at the 1930's, Broadway hit its stride in blockbuster shows that ran for long periods of time and kept going to modern times.  One such examples is Oklahoma that had over 2000 performances or Phantom of the Opera with over 9000 shows, or Cats with over 7000.

Shortly after World War II ended, the Tony awards began.  The Tony's were designed to recognize achievement in the Broadway theaters.  This award was followed by many others including the Obie which recognized the off and off-off Broadway shows.

Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  Have a great day.

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