Musicals come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of quality, but Broadway is in a class of its own. Theater performances held in one of the 40 halls within this district are held to the highest standards, and may very well be the pinnacle of English-produced theater across the globe. Come, let’s delve into the fascinating history and heritage from which this amazing art form has emerged.
The Early History
While Murray and Kean brought musicals to life in New York as far back as 1750, Broadway itself was born in 1811 when the city of New York began restructuring the streets into the grid system of today. The area between 41st street and 53rd became known as the Theater District, and theater in America would never be the same. Iconic theaters such as The Astor Opera House and The Metropolitan Theater were symbols of class, culture, and art. Later, some of the most unforgettable performances including Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserable, and Jesus Christ Superstar.
The Revolutionary War put theater back a few decades, but by the 1800s, everything was back on track with musicals and Shakespearean plays running regularly across Broadway.
From its inception, Broadway was destined for great things. More than just a musical haven, Broadway evolved into a cultural center, a meeting place for wealthy citizens to shop, dine, and be entertained. It’s no wonder that an entire subculture developed around this happening mini-metropolis.
The Soul of Broadway Musicals
The first modern day musical performance was The Black Crook. It was the first time collaborators combined music and dance to tell a story, and it was fabulously well received. From there, musicals evolved to include everything from heart-wrenching tragedies to musical comedies and even political statements for radicals. Names like Rogers and Hammerstein will forever be held in memoriam for the tremendous impact they had on Broadway and musicals globally.
WWII was over, and America was slowly rebuilding the economy. The entertainment industry was also hard at work making adjustments and looking for ways to improve production while expanding their reach. The Tony Awards were born out of an attempt to raise the bar, giving theater troupes something to compete over. The awards were also a smart way of getting more people involved and interested in the theater.
Though Hollywood and the silver screen have distracted some viewers away from theater, Broadway musicals still thrive today, increasing in popularity with each year. Special effects and stunt doubles simply cannot replace the magic of a moving musical. Done well, these shows are powerful, and extremely emotional, something the Hollywood smoke machines just can’t replicate. The music is the key to Broadway’s success, and new performers are being developed and discovered every day. Who knows – perhaps you'll be the next Gershwin…