Broadway today, with it’s many theaters, glittering lights and talented stars is a central part of what NYC is as a City. In the number of shows, the breadth of the audience and the value of tickets sold (in the billions of dollars), makes NYC one of the two top theater cities in the world. To perform on Broadway is the pinnacle of theatrical achievement. But today is the culmination of several centures of theatrical performances which slowly evolved into what is on offer today.
In the mid 19th Century, theatrical productions were still following what was available in England and Europe and what was put on were mainly Shakespearean plays and ballad operas. There was no established theater district as such. When the 19th Century rolled around home grown entrepreneurs such as P.T. Barnum put on circus like shows, and burlesque, musicals and Gilbert and Sullivan were all vailable for New Yorkers to see.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th Century that modern day Broadway started to take shape with a growth in the number of theaters in the Broadway district and a mixed range of shows from serious plays to the Zeigfeld Reviews. And then the growth of the musical started when a group of excellent composers and lyricists started writing shows: Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart and George Gershwin.
Fromn the 1930′s onwards, the era of the long running Broadway spectacles set in from Show Boat to Oklahoma. They drew huge audiences and starred classically trained male and female actors and singers. such as John Geilgud, Paul Robeson, Maurice Evans, John Barrymore and Katherine Cornell. The era of the dazzling ‘star’ had fully arrived and their vehicles were performances that ran forever.
The Tony Awards were established in 1947 and have grown into a hugely impressive annual ceremony. It is probably the most important awards ceremony in the nation because no other can touch it in terms of stars and ensembles doing their thing in person, on stage under the bright lights. It highlights current Broadway shows and celebrates the male and female actors, directors, producers, composers, lyricists, set and costume designers and the many others who make Broadway shows possible. It is also very a important marketing opportunity which can be relied upon to kick along Broadway tickets sales.
The top 5 longest running shows on Broadway so far are Phantom of the Opera (way out in front) followed by Chicago, Cats, The Lion King and Les Miserables. Today a visit to Broadway is an essential part of a NYC holiday or something which native New Yorkers do regularly. going to see a Broadway show is an essential part of New York life. P.T. Barnum, Florenz Zeigfeld and George Gershwin would all approve though they might be a little surprized by just how much stunningly their vision has succeeded.