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Broadway and Theater History

Category Broadway

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In 1811, the city planners of New York City began a massive building execution of the grid, which is now a major characteristic of Manhattan. Broadway, as we know it, was born.

All existing roads were redesigned according to this concept; only Broadway was spared. The theater district sits between the 41st and 53rd Street and between the Sixth and Ninth Avenues.

Numerous well-known musicals and their actors celebrated their first successes here before gaining great fame. The district comprises more than 40 theaters and numerous other venues beyond the actual street of Broadway. The history of the district is almost as tragic as the many stories that have been listed throughout history. In the 1930s, Broadway experienced a major crisis that was largely due to the invention of films that had sound.

Times Square (Photo: Prayitno Photography/Flickr CC)

Times Square (Photo: Prayitno Photography/Flickr CC)

The History behind Plays and Musicals on Broadway

Some 40 theaters are immersed in a sea of light from the theaters' neon signs, each advertising the latest performances; keeping the Broadway mythos alive. In the early years, Broadway began as a leader in the retail sector. The commercial draw is what really sparked growth in the area. The retail venues that lined the street attracted affluent patrons and created a centralized cultural environment over time. It is because of the retail area that Broadway really took off in the early 1900's.

However, Broadway theaters were not always located in Manhattan. In fact, the history of musicals and New York City date back to 1750. Thomas Kean and Walter Murray, actor-managers in the area, established a theater company that housed 280 residents. The Revolutionary War abruptly stopped all productions and the theater did not open back up until 1798. Over the course of the next 70 years, New York City would see increasing numbers of theaters becoming established.

One of America's most notoriously famous actors, Edwin Booth, brother of Abraham Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth, also performed on the Broadway stage. His fame came at the hands of Shakespearian plays. After the Civil War ended, many more theaters started to pop up in the city, however it wasn't until the 1920's and 30's that theaters started to consolidate on Broadway.

To finance further productions, operators had to rely on financial aid. After World War II ended, the Tony Awards were born in order to improve the quality of the performances by introducing the element of competition, and to attract a broader audience.


The Continued Success of Broadway

A reluctant success of Broadway is the fact that many of the plays had been turned into movies by the Hollywood film industry. When the movie studios began implementing sound technology for film screenings, musicals were some of the first productions released on the silver screen. Not only did the scripts migrate from the stage to the screen, but many actors and actresses did as well. To this day, many well-known film actors began their career on Broadway.

Among the theaters most known are the Metropolitan Opera and the Majestic Theater. The Majestic Theatre is considered by many as the home of the musical. Nestled in between the giants are numerous small theaters, each vying for one of the 1,500 performances on the strip each year. The musicals or play pieces are divided into three categories: Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway.


Actors and Musicals that made it Big

Some of the great successes on Broadway include the musical Cabaret and the haunting musical Cats; Jesus Christ Superstar also celebrated its first successes here. Furthermore, popular musicals, which gained their fame on Broadway, are The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, Les Miserables and Mamma Mia!. The list of successful performances continues to grow each year.

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