Published By: Jayati

Broadway beat: Fun facts then and now

Phantom of the Opera, running since 1988, celebrates its 30th anniversary with over 12,500 performances and 18 million viewers. It's a box office record-breaker at The Majestic Theatre! 

Ever wondered about the captivating story of Broadway? It's not just a street—it's the heart of musical theater! From its early days earning the moniker "The Great White Way" to its bustling beginnings and recent blockbuster hits, here's a peek into the fascinating world of Broadway!

Broadway has had many names over time 

Back in the day, before Broadway was all about dazzling lights and showbiz glitz, it started off as a Native American trail called the Wickquasgeck. Then the Dutch swooped in and dubbed it De Heeren Straat, meaning “the Gentlemen’s Street,” because it was so wide and spacious. Of course, over time, people just started calling it Broadway, and well, the rest is history!

Broadway shows in New York pull in nearly 15 million people every year 

Can you believe it? Every year, nearly 15 million people flock to New York's Broadway shows. That's more than the entire population of Belgium! And get this: 68% of the audience is female, and a whopping 65% are tourists. Some people even make a special trip to NYC just to experience Broadway. It's no surprise, though—seeing a show in the heart of the Big Apple's theatre district is a dream for so many!

New York's early theatre scene was downtown 

As fans of Hamilton can attest, New York City was hailed as "the greatest city in the world" even in the 18th century. Naturally, theatre actors saw it as a promising place to establish themselves. By 1750, if you strolled down Nassau Street, you could catch performances like Richard III by Walter Murray and Thomas Kean’s troupe. These companies primarily staged popular English plays, from Shakespeare's works to The Beggar's Opera, rather than pioneering new theatrical works.

The Black Crook is often dubbed the first-ever "Broadway musical” 

Niblo’s Garden, located at Prince Street and Broadway, was home to what many consider the first true Broadway musical. When the Academy of Music was destroyed by fire in 1866, producers Harry Palmer and Henry Jarrett needed a venue for their ballet troupe. They struck a deal with Niblo’s Garden manager, William Wheatley, to blend their dance production with his play about a sorcerer who bargains souls for eternal life. The result was The Black Crook, a sensational six-hour spectacle of music, dance, and drama that became a massive hit, running for approximately 480 performances—far surpassing typical theatrical runs.

The Lion King rakes in the most cash on Broadway 

"The Lion King" holds the title as Broadway's highest-grossing production ever, with over $1.4 billion in revenue during its 20-year run. It was the first Broadway show to achieve $1 billion in earnings, surpassing "The Phantom of the Opera," which grossed $845 million. Julie Taymor, its director, made history as the first woman to win the Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical.

Broadway's transformation came with electric lighting and the subway 

Midtown Manhattan became the centre of New York City's theatre world thanks to more than just Hammerstein's influence. Technological advancements played a crucial role too. Electricity transformed theatres, replacing dangerous gas lighting with safer electric bulbs. These bulbs not only improved safety and comfort but also allowed advertisers to illuminate Broadway with dazzling displays, earning it the nickname "The Great White Way." Interestingly, the phrase originated from a snowstorm, but its association with bright lights quickly became its defining feature.

Antoinette Perry is commemorated through the Tony Awards 

Antoinette Perry, born in Colorado, transitioned from acting to directing. With her partner Brock Pemberton, she produced 17 shows from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. Perry advocated for a national acting school and co-founded the Theatre Wing of Allied Relief, now the American Theatre Wing. After her 1946 death, the industry honoured her with the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, commonly known today as the Tony Award.

Here's a parting bonus: On Broadway, a "showstopper" isn't just a metaphor. It's a musical number so dazzling that it literally stops the show, with the audience erupting in applause and cheers.