What started Broadway

New York weblog

New York offers a veritable cornucopia of cultural offerings, be it theater and musical productions, opera performances, symphony concerts, art films or literary readings.
Broadway is one of the most popular sights in New York, the epitome of this cultural diversity. But the well-known street does not only consist of the relatively small area with the theaters around Times Square. The road, which can look back on a long history, stretches from the south of Manhattan, through the Bronx, to the north near the small town of Sleepy Hollow.

From the Indian path to the pedestrian zone
It all started with an old Indian trail, which was expanded into a paved road by the first Dutch settlers in the 17th century, making it the oldest and, at more than 26 kilometers, the longest north-south crossing of New York City. It was called the "Breede Wegh", which later became Broadway due to the English influence.
You can tell how old Broadway is by the fact that it is not laid out like the other streets like a chessboard, but runs straight through Manhattan.
Starting at the Bowling Green in the south of the island, past Wall Street and Times Square, up to Central Park and on past Columbia University. To the north at 178th Street, Broadway continues as US Highway 9 through the Bronx before exiting the city area and continuing through Yonkers to Sleepy Hollow.

The street experienced one of the greatest changes in its history in May 2009, when, at the urging of Mayor Bloomberg, Broadway from 42nd to 47th Streets, including Time Square, was declared a pedestrian zone. Likewise the section from 33rd to 35th Street at Herald Square, instead of traffic avalanches you can find folding chairs, parasols and potted plants there today.

The history of Broadway theater
Nowadays, Broadway from 41st to 53rd Streets is considered to be the stronghold of the world's theatrical art. Many famous musicals started their triumphal march around the world here. This success story began around 1730 when the first theater opened on Broadway, but at that time it was still in Lower Manhattan. In 1866, the street became the birthplace of the first musical, so to speak, when “The Black Crook”, one of the forerunners of today's musicals, premiered in Niblo’s Garden. During this time, many more theater, opera and music houses settled in the vicinity of Herald Square in order to avoid the high property prices in downtown. Since this area between Union Square and Madison Square was illuminated with street lamps at the time and because of the numerous neon signs, it was also called "The Great White Way".
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that the first theaters also reached today's area around Times Square, the nickname from then simply made the move.

The new theater district became more and more of New York's cultural center. Many of the theaters were built between 1910 and 1930, the heyday of vaudeville and the famous Ziegfeld Follies.
Some of them, such as the Lyceum Theater and the New Amsterdam Theater, have survived to this day, where you can still be enchanted by wonderful stage plays.
With the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s and the invention of film set to music, Broadway also went downhill. Many theaters had to close and thousands of theater people lost their jobs. Of 264 productions in 1927/1928, only 72 were left in 1940. In the decades that followed, many theaters had to fight for their existence and yet a new success story began in the 40s and 50s, because they are considered the heyday of Broadway musicals. Productions such as Oklahoma !, My Fair Lady and West Side Story attracted audiences to the theaters in droves, including a particularly large number of non-New Yorkers.

Things were particularly bad for the Theater District in the 1980s, when the theater began to die out. Many stages were converted into striptease bars and sex and drugs dominated the streets.
At the end of the 80s, many theaters were listed and with Disney's “Beauty and the Beast”, Broadway experienced a new upswing in 1994. Thanks to numerous austerity measures and the engagement of well-known actors, the crisis has now been overcome and a musical or a play is being performed in each of these 40 theaters.

  • Al Hirschfeld Theater
  • Ambassador Theater
  • American Airlines Theater
  • August Wilson Theater
  • Belasco Theater
  • Bernard B. Jacobs Theater
  • Booth Theater
  • Broadhurst Theater
  • The Broadway Theater
  • Brooks Atkinson Theater
  • Circle in the Square Theater
  • Cort Theater
  • Ethel Barrymore Theater
  • Eugene O'Neill Theater
  • Foxwoods Theater
  • Gerald Schoenfeld Theater
  • Gershwin Theater
  • Helen Hayes Theater
  • Imperial Theater
  • John Golden Theater
  • Longacre Theater
  • Lunt-Fontanne Theater
  • Lyceum Theater
  • Majestic Theater
  • Marquis Theater
  • Minskoff Theater
  • Music Box Theater
  • Nederlander Theater
  • Neil Simon Theater
  • New Amsterdam Theater
  • Palace Theater
  • Richard Rodgers Theater
  • St. James Theater
  • Samuel J. Friedman Theater
  • Shubert Theater
  • Stephen Sondheim Theater
  • Studio 54
  • Vivian Beaumont Theater
  • Walter Kerr Theater
  • Winter Garden Theater

The most successful shows on Broadway include many well-known musicals, such as:
The Lion King, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Grease, West Side Story and many others.

Creation of Off-Broadway
In addition to the large theaters with their large and expensive productions, so-called Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway stages have also been built since the 1950s. As the name suggests, the off-Broadway theaters were not directly on the Great White Way, but some distance away, which made rents considerably cheaper. The off-off Broadway stages, on the other hand, were located completely outside the theater district. Plays that enjoyed great popularity on these stages were often relocated to one of the major Broadway stages after a short period of time.
Today we differentiate the individual categories based on their size:
Theaters with more than 500 seats are among the Broadway stages, even if they are not directly on the famous street.
With a capacity of 100 - 499 spectators one speaks of the off-Broadway theaters and everything below that belongs in the off-off-Broadway area.
In contrast to the big musicals, the pieces on the smaller stages don't always follow mainstream tastes. There are also many brave performances to be admired here and they serve as a home for the experimental theater.
This is of course also noticeable in the pricing. While the prices for large Broadway musicals, depending on the time and row of seats, often only start at 100 euros, the smaller theaters are much cheaper.