Broadway theatre

Broadway theatre

Broadway theater,Although "theater" is the preferred spelling in the U.S.A. (see further at American and British English Spelling Differences), the majority of venues, performers, and trade groups for live dramatic presentations use the spelling "theatre".] commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 39 large professional theaters with 500 seats or more located in the Theater District of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. [ [ article, Feb. 7, 2008, "ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Broadway or Off-Broadway—Part I", retrieved Feb. 8, 2008] ]

The Broadway theater district is a popular tourist attraction in New York City. According to The Broadway League, Broadway shows sell over one and a half billion dollars' worth of tickets annually. Fact|date: September 14 2008|date=September 2008


18th and 19th centuries

New York (and therefore, America) did not have a significant theatre presence until about 1750, when actor-managers Walter Murray and Thomas Kean established a resident theatre company at the Theatre on Nassau Street, which held about 280 people. They presented Shakespeare plays and ballad operas such as "The Beggar’s Opera". [ John Kenrick article on the history of NY theatre] ] In 1752, William Hallam sent a company of twelve actors from Britain to the colonies with his brother Lewis as their manager. They established a theatre in Williamsburg, Virginia and opened with "The Merchant of Venice" and "The Anatomist." The company moved to New York in the summer of 1753, performing ballad operas and ballad-farces like "Damon and Phillida." The Revolutionary War suspended theatre in New York, but thereafter theatre resumed, and in 1798, the 2,000-seat Park Theatre was built on Chatham Street (now called Park Row). The Bowery Theater opened in 1826, followed by others. Blackface minstrel shows, a distinctly American form of entertainment, became popular in the 1830s, and especially so with the arrival of the Virginia Minstrels in the 1840s.

By the 1840s, P.T. Barnum was operating an entertainment complex in lower Manhattan. In 1829, at Broadway and Prince Street, Niblo's Garden opened and soon became one of New York's premiere night spots. The 3,000-seat theatre presented all sorts of musical and non-musical entertainments. The Astor Place Theatre opened in 1847. A riot broke out in 1849 when the lower-class patrons of the Bowery objected to what they perceived as snobbery by the upper class audiences at Astor Place::"After the Astor Place Riot of 1849 entertainment in New York City was divided along class lines: opera was chiefly for the upper middle and upper classes, minstrel shows and melodramas for the middle class, variety shows in concert saloons for men of the working class and the slumming middle class. [Snyder, Robert W. in The Encyclopedia of New York City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), Kenneth T. Jackson, editor, p. 1226.]

Theatre in New York moved from downtown gradually to midtown beginning around 1850, seeking less expensive real estate prices. In 1870, the heart of Broadway was in Union Square, and by the end of the century, many theatres were near Madison Square. Theatres did not arrive in the Times Square area until the early 1900s, and the Broadway theatres did not consolidate there until a large number of theatres were built around the square in the 1920s and 1930s. Broadway's first "long-run" musical was a 50 performance hit called "The Elves" in 1857. New York runs continued to lag far behind those in London, [ [ Article on long runs in New York and London prior to 1920] ] but Laura Keene's "musical burletta" "Seven Sisters" (1860) shattered previous New York records with a run of 253 performances. It was at a performance by Keene's troupe of "Our American Cousin" in Washington, D.C. that Abraham Lincoln was shot.

The first theatre piece that conforms to the modern conception of a musical, adding dance and original music that helped to tell the story, is generally considered to be "The Black Crook", which premiered in New York on September 12, 1866. The production was a staggering five-and-a-half hours long, but despite its length, it ran for a record-breaking 474 performances. The same year, "The Black Domino/Between You, Me and the Post" was the first show to call itself a "musical comedy."

Tony Pastor opened the first vaudeville theatre one block east of Union Square in 1881, where Lillian Russell performed. Comedians Edward Harrigan and Tony Hart produced and starred in musicals on Broadway between 1878 ("The Mulligan Guard Picnic") and 1885, with book and lyrics by Harrigan and music by his father-in-law David Braham. These musical comedies featured characters and situations taken from the everyday life of New York's lower classes and represented a significant step forward from vaudeville and burlesque, towards a more literate form. They starred high quality singers (Lillian Russell, Vivienne Segal, and Fay Templeton) instead of the ladies of questionable repute who had starred in earlier musical forms.

As transportation improved, poverty in New York diminished, and street lighting made for safer travel at night, the number of potential patrons for the growing number of theatres increased enormously. Plays could run longer and still draw in the audiences, leading to better profits and improved production values. As in England, during the latter half of the century the theatre began to be cleaned up, with less prostitution hindering the attendance of the theatre by women. Gilbert and Sullivan's family-friendly comic opera hits, beginning with "H.M.S. Pinafore" in 1878, were imported to New York (by the authors and also in numerous pirated productions). They were imitated in New York by American productions such as Reginald DeKoven's "Robin Hood" (1891) and John Philip Sousa's "El Capitan" (1896), along with operas, ballets and other British and European hits.

1890s and later

Charles Hoyt's "A Trip to Chinatown" (1891) became Broadway's long-run champion, holding the stage for 657 performances. This would not be surpassed until "Irene" in 1919. In 1896, theatre owners Marc Klaw and A. L. Erlanger formed the Theatrical Syndicate, which controlled almost every legitimate theatre in the U.S. for the next sixteen years. [ [ Kenrick's summary of New York theater from 1865-1900] ] However, smaller vaudeville and variety houses proliferated, and Off-Broadway was well established by the end of the 19th century.

"A Trip to Coontown" (1898) was the first musical comedy entirely produced and performed by African Americans in a Broadway theatre (largely inspired by the routines of the minstrel shows), followed by the ragtime-tinged "Clorindy the Origin of the Cakewalk" (1898), and the highly successful "In Dahomey" (1902). Hundreds of musical comedies were staged on Broadway in the 1890s and early 1900s made up of songs written in New York's Tin Pan Alley involving composers such as Gus Edwards, John Walter Bratton, and George M. Cohan ("Little Johnny Jones" (1904), "45 Minutes From Broadway" (1906), and "George Washington Jr." (1906)). Still, New York runs continued to be relatively short, with a few exceptions, compared with London runs, until World War I. [ [ Article on long-running musicals before 1920] ] A few very successful British musicals continued to achieve great success in New York, including "Florodora" in 1900-01.

In the early years of the 20th century, translations of popular late-19th century continental operettas were joined by the "Princess Theatre" shows of the 1910s by writers such as P. G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton and Harry B. Smith. Victor Herbert, whose work included some intimate musical plays with modern settings as well as his string of famous operettas ("The Fortune Teller" (1898), "Babes in Toyland" (1903), "Mlle. Modiste" (1905), "The Red Mill" (1906), and "Naughty Marietta" (1910)). [ [ Midkoff, Neil article] ] Beginning with "The Red Mill", Broadway shows installed electric signs outside the theatres. Since colored bulbs burned out too quickly, white lights were used, and Broadway was nicknamed "The Great White Way." In August 1919, the Actors Equity Association demanded a standard contract for all professional productions. After a strike shut down all the theatres, the producers were forced to agree. By the 1920s, the Schubert Brothers had risen to take over the majority of the theatres from the Erlanger syndicate. [ [ Kenrick's summary of the 20th century history of theatre in New York] ]

continued in the vein of Victor Herbert. Clearly, the live theatre survived the invention of cinema.

Leaving these comparatively frivolous entertainments behind, and taking the drama a giant step forward, "Show Boat", premiered on December 27, 1927 at the Ziegfeld Theatre, representing a complete integration of book and score, with dramatic themes, as told through the music, dialogue, setting and movement, woven together more seamlessly than in previous musicals. It ran for a total of 572 performances. After the lean years of the Great Depression, Broadway theatre entered a golden age with the blockbuster hit "Oklahoma!", in 1943, which ran for 2,212 performances. Hit after hit followed on Broadway, and the Broadway theatre attained the highest level of international prestige in theatre.

The Tony Awards were established in 1947 to recognize achievement in live American theatre, especially Broadway theatre.

Broadway today


Although there are now more exceptions than there once were, generally shows with open-ended runs operate on the same schedule, with evening performances Tuesday through Saturday with an 8 p.m. "curtain" and afternoon "matinée" performances on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday; typically at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays, making a standard eight performance week. On this schedule, shows do not play on Monday, and the shows and theatres are said to be "dark" on that day. Actors and crew in these shows tend to regard Sunday evening through Tuesday evening as their "weekend". The Tony Award presentation ceremony is usually held on a Sunday evening in June to fit into this schedule.

In recent years, many shows have moved their Tuesday show time an hour earlier to 7 p.m. The rationale for the move was that fewer tourists took in shows midweek, so the Tuesday crowd in particular depends on local audience members. The earlier curtain therefore allows suburban patrons time after a show to get home by a reasonable hour. Some shows, especially those produced by Disney, change their performance schedules fairly frequently, depending on the season, in order to maximize access to their targeted audience.


Both musicals and stage plays on Broadway often rely on casting well-known performers in leading roles to draw larger audiences or bring in new audience members to the theatre. Actors from movies and television are frequently cast for the revivals of Broadway shows or are used to replace actors leaving a cast. There are still, however, performers who are primarily stage actors, spending most of their time "on the boards", and appearing in television and in screen roles only secondarily.

In the past, stage actors had a somewhat superior attitude towards other kinds of live performances, such as vaudeville and burlesque, which were felt to be tawdry, commercial and low-brow—they considered their own craft to be a higher and more artistic calling. This attitude is reflected in the term used to describe their form of stage performance: "legitimate theatre". (The abbreviated form "legit" is still used for live theatre by the entertainment industry newspaper "Variety" as part of its unique "slanguage.")cite web|url=|title=Variety slanguage Dictionary|accessdate=2007-12-18|author=Variety Magazine] This rather condescending attitude also carried over to performers who worked in radio, film and television instead of in "the theatre", but this attitude is much less prevalent now, especially since film and television work pay so much better than almost all theatrical acting, even Broadway. The split between "legit" theatre and "variety" performances still exists, however, in the structure of the actors' unions: Actors' Equity represents actors in the legitimate theatre, and the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) represents them in performances without a "book" or through-storyline—although it's very rare for Broadway actors not to work under an Equity contract, since most plays and musicals come under that union's jurisdiction.

Almost all of the people involved with a Broadway show at every level are represented by unions or other protective, professional or trade organization. The actors, dancers, singers, chorus members and stage managers are members of Actors' Equity Association (AEA), musicians are represented by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), and stagehands, dressers, hairdressers, designers, box office personnel and ushers all belong to various locals of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, also known as "the IA" or "IATSE" (pronounced "eye-ot-zee"). Directors and choreographers belong to the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSD&C), playwrights to the Dramatists Guild, and house managers, company managers and press agents belong to the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM). Casting directors (who tried in 2002-2004 to become part of ATPAM) is the last major components of Broadway's human infrastructure who are not unionized. (General managers, who run the business affairs of a show, and are frequently producers as well, are management and not labor.)

Producers and theatre owners

Most Broadway producers and theatre owners are members of the The Broadway League (formerly "The League of American Theatres and Producers"), a trade organization that promotes Broadway theatre as a whole, negotiates contracts with the various theatrical unions and agreements with the guilds, and co-administers the Tony Awards with the American Theatre Wing, a service organization. While the League and the theatrical unions are sometimes at loggerheads during those periods when new contracts are being negotiated, they also cooperate on many projects and events designed to promote professional theatre in New York.

The three non-profit theatre companies with Broadway theatres ("houses") belong to the League of Resident Theatres and have contracts with the theatrical unions which are negotiated separately from the other Broadway theatre and producers. (Disney also negotiates apart from the League, as did Livent before it closed down its operations.) However, generally, shows that play in any of the Broadway houses are eligible for Tony Awards (see below).

The majority of Broadway theatres are owned or managed by three organizations: the Shubert Organization, a for-profit arm of the non-profit Shubert Foundation, which owns 17 theatres (it recently retained full ownership of the Music Box from the Irving Berlin Estate); The Nederlander Organization, which controls 9 theatres; and Jujamcyn, which owns five Broadway houses.


Most Broadway shows are commercial productions intended to make a profit for the producers and investors ("backers" or "angels"), and therefore have open-ended runs, meaning that the length of their presentation is not set beforehand, but depends on critical response, word of mouth, and the effectiveness of the show's advertising, all of which determine ticket sales. Shows do not necessarily have to make a profit immediately. If they are making their "nut" (weekly operating expenses), or are losing money at a rate which the producers consider acceptable, they may continue to run in the expectation that, eventually, they will pay back their initial costs and become profitable. In some borderline situations, producers may ask that royalties be temporarily reduced or waived, or even that performers — with the permission of their unions — take reduced salaries, in order to prevent a show from closing. Theatre owners, who are not generally profit participants in most productions, may waive or reduce rents, or even lend a show money in order to keep it running. (In one case, a theatre owner lent a floundering show money to stay open, even though the production had to move to another owner's theatre because of a previous booking at the original house.)

Some Broadway shows are produced by non-commercial organizations as part of a regular subscription season—Lincoln Center Theatre, Roundabout Theatre Company, and Manhattan Theatre Club are the three non-profit theatre companies that currently have permanent Broadway venues. Some other productions are produced on Broadway with "limited engagement runs" for a number of reasons, including financial issues, prior engagements of the performers or temporary availability of a theatre between the end of one production and the beginning of another. However, some shows with planned limited engagement runs may, after critical acclaim or box office success, extend their engagements or convert to open-ended runs. This was the case with 2007's ,

Historically, musicals on Broadway tend to have longer runs than do "straight" (i.e. non-musical) plays. On January 9, 2006, "The Phantom of the Opera" at the Majestic Theatre became the longest running Broadway musical, with 7,486 performances, overtaking "Cats". [ [ List of longest runs on Broadway] ]


In addition to long runs in Broadway theatres, producers often remount their productions with a new cast and crew for the Broadway national tour, which travels to theaters in major cities across the country—the bigger and more successful shows may have several of these touring companies out at a time, some of them "sitting down" in other cities for their own long runs. Smaller cities are eventually serviced by "bus & truck" tours, so-called because the cast generally travels by bus (instead of by air) and the sets and equipment by truck. Tours of this type, which frequently feature a reduced physical production to accommodate smaller venues and tighter schedules, often play "split weeks" (half a week in one town and the second half in another) or "one-nighters", whereas the larger tours will generally play for one or two weeks per city at a minimum. The Touring Broadway Awards, presented by The Broadway League, honor excellence in touring Broadway.


Seeing a Broadway show is a common tourist activity in New York, and Broadway theatre generates billions of dollars annually. The TKTS booths—one in Duffy Square (47th Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue) and one in Lower Manhattan (199 Water Street—Corner of Front & John Streets)—sell same-day tickets for many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows at a discount of either 25%, 35% or 50%. This service helps sell seats that would otherwise go empty, and makes seeing a show in New York more affordable. Many Broadway theatres also offer special student rates, same-day "rush" or "lottery" tickets, or standing-room tickets to help ensure that their theatres are as full, and their "grosses" as high as possible. [Blank, Matthew. [ "Broadway Rush and Standing Room Only Policies",], August 21, 2008]

Some theatregoers prefer the more experimental, challenging, and intimate performances possible in smaller theatres, which are referred to as Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway (though some may be physically located on or near Broadway). An example of this would be the hit musical Spring Awakening, which began its run Off-Broadway in a small, intimate environment, and continued onto Broadway, where it still gives the similar, intimate experience. The classification of theatres is governed by language in Actors' Equity Association contracts. To be eligible for a Tony, a production must be in a house with 500 seats or more and in the Theatre District, which criteria defines Broadway theatre.

Total Broadway attendance in the 2007-2008 season was 12.27 million, which was approximately the same as the previous season (2006-2007).cite web|url=|title="Broadway Season Statistics"|access date=2008-08-22|author=The Broadway League] London's West End theatre reported total attendance of 13.6 million for major commercial and grant-aided theatres in Central London for 2007. [ [ Society of London Theatre Annual Report, 2007] ]

Tony Awards

Broadway shows and artists are honored every June when the Antoinette Perry Awards (Tony Awards) are given by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League. The "Tony" is Broadway's most prestigious award, the importance of which has increased since the annual broadcast on television began. In a strategy to improve the television ratings, celebrities are often chosen to host the show, like Hugh Jackman and Rosie O'Donnell, in addition to celebrity presenters, many with little or no connection to the theatre. [ [ "New York Times" article, June 7, 2004, Tony Awards Finish Up With a Fuzzy Surprise; Puppet Musical Wins Big, as Does 'My Own Wife] ]

While some critics have felt that the show should focus on celebrating the stage, others recognize the positive impact that famous faces lend to selling more tickets and bringing more people to the theatre. The performances from Broadway musicals on the telecast have also been cited as vital to the survival of many Broadway shows. Many theatre people, notably critic Frank Rich, dismiss the Tony awards as little more than a commercial for the limited world of Broadway, which after all can only support a maximum of two dozen shows a season, and constantly call for the awards to embrace off-Broadway theatre as well. (Other awards given to New York theatrical productions, such as the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Circle Critics Award, are not limited to Broadway productions, and honor shows that are presented throughout the city.)

List of Broadway theatres

* If no show is currently running, the play listed is the next show planned (dates marked with an *).
* If the next show planned is not announced, the applicable columns are left blank.

ee also

*Off Broadway
*Off Off Broadway
*The Gypsy Robe

Notes and references

External links

* []
* [ The Internet Broadway Database]
* [ Broadway Theatre Archive]
* []
* [ Broadway Magazine]

;Awards and service organizations
* [ Tony Awards]
* [ Touring Broadway Awards]
* [ American Theatre Wing]
* [ Theatre Communications Group]

;Producers and Unions
* [ The Broadway League] (formerly the League of American Theatres and Producers)
* [ Actors' Equity Association]
* [ The Dramatists Guild of America]
* [ Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers]
* [ American Federation of Musicians]
* [ IATSE]
* [ Association of Theatrical Press Agents & Managers]

;News, information and ticket sources
* []
* []
* []
* []
* [ Broadway Show Guide]
* [ I Love New York Theater]
* [ Broadway Tickets - National Event Company]
* []

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