Broadway history is a bit mysterious. It’s connected to many different art forms including opera, operetta, tap, jazz, vaudeville, and more. There are 41 professional theatres on Broadway, each with 500 or more seats, located in the Theater District and the Lincoln Center in Midtown Manhattan. But before exploring Broadway’s interesting history, let’s see what Broadway is today.
Interesting Broadway Facts
One of the most interesting Broadway facts is that not all shows are on the street Broadway. In fact, of 41 theatres, only three are actually on Broadway.
Broadway shows are performances located within the “Broadway Box” (between 40th street and 66th street, Sixth Avenue and Ninth Avenue). They also have a contract with Actors Equity(opens in a new tab) (the union that protects live stage performers) and are in a theatre with 500 seats or more. If the theatre has 499 seats or less, it is considered an “off-Broadway” theatre.
The shows can be musicals or straight plays, and range in style from classical Shakespeare performances to productions such as Hamilton which showcase the American founding fathers rapping with one another. There is truly a show for everyone.
In 2019, Broadway brought in $1.75 billion to New York City’s economy. That is more than all of New York City’s professional sports teams combined! With over 14 million people seeing a Broadway show that year, those numbers are simply jaw-dropping and show us just how integral theatre has become to NYC’s economy.
Who Created Broadway
It’s almost impossible to define who created Broadway. Some may credit Walter Murray and Thomas Keane, actors who established the first major theatre in New York all the way back in 1750.
In 1829, a 3,000 seat theatre known as Niblo’s Garden opened on Broadway and Prince Street. Some would claim this was a “Broadway Theatre” as it presented entertainment that included musicals and was conveniently on Broadway.
In 1866, The Black Crook debuted, a show most credited as being the first “modern musical.” The leading actors sang and danced at the same time, versus operas and operettas which had a separate ballet troupe. The Black Crook also had a plot, which separated it from vaudeville performances of the day. Some may credit Thomas Baker, writer of The Black Crook, as being the man who created Broadway.
Near the turn of the century, theatre began to move farther uptown to the area we now know as the “theatre district” or the “Broadway Box.” 1899 saw the opening of Oscar Hammerstein I’s Victoria Theatre on the corner of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue. Many would consider this to be the birth of modern-day “Broadway” and would give Oscar Hammerstein I credit as being the man who created Broadway.
The musical Showboat debuted in 1927. This was the first musical with a score, a book, and dramatic themes told both through music and spoken word. It set the stage for the modern-day musicals we know today. You may recognize some famous songs from Showboat, including “Old Man River” and “Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine.”
In 1947, the American Theatre Wing created the famous Tony Awards. These awards honor the best of Broadway, and it is every actor’s dream to win one. Winning a Tony is a sure way to make sure your name goes down in Broadway history.
Today, the annual Tony Awards are broadcast live on television. Shows running on Broadway will choose production numbers that best showcase the musical or play and perform it live on the broadcast. Watching these performances is a great preview of shows you can buy tickets for!
In 1973 the famous TKTS booth(opens in a new tab) opened. This booth, currently located under a giant red staircase at 47th street and Broadway, sells half-price theatre tickets. It’s a great way to see theatre on a budget. You have to buy your tickets the day of the show, and the TKTS booth most likely won’t have the biggest hit shows such as The Lion King. If you are open to seeing anything, the TKTS booth can provide a fun, spontaneous night out! Every show on Broadway is top-notch and witnessing a live performance is a must-do in NYC.