The Museum of Broadway

There have always been good exhibits about Broadway theatre around the city that come and go. The Performing Arts Library has excellent displays – some more elaborate, like the Hal Prince exhibit a few years ago, and some as quick pop-ups like the one honoring Stephen Sondheim via his correspondence set up after his death almost a year ago. There was a terrific temporary exhibit about costumes around the time Broadway reopened after pandemic. And many theatres themselves have displays of old show art or even props or costumes from productions that have been in that theatre. But when I heard people were planning to create a permanent Museum of Broadway, I thought that was a splendid idea and knew I wanted to be there as soon as they opened. I was fortunate enough to be there on opening day, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The museum is on West 45th between Seventh and Sixth Avenues, right next to the Lyceum. You walk in through the gift shop (will exit there as well, two chances to shop!), head toward the giant Tony Award, and either purchase a ticket or scan in if you have purchased in advance.

Everything is completely themed – so when you are entering through a stairwell, you see information about warmups in stairwells before a show, backstage traditions, and even the bathrooms are disguised as dressing rooms.

The first room has a poster for every Broadway theatre, and information about the show currently there, as well as a QR code to go through to purchase tickets to the show. If an theatre is currently empty, the poster is blank, so this room will need to be constantly updated as shows come and go. You can see a video of this room here. I noted that the small group of people who saw 15 or more shows in a given year (and I am quite definitely in that group!) account for 28% of all tickets sold. And only 35% of tickets sales on Broadway are to New Yorkers like myself, so you quickly realize the importance of tourist dollars to the Broadway economy.

You might wait a bit to be let into the next room, as it features a lovely short film about the history of the Times Square theatre area. They let groups of people in at a time so that those enjoying the film aren’t constantly interrupted by people coming or going, and I appreciated that.

Then you begin the main portion of the museum, which is a timeline of Broadway. Each time period features costumes, props, information, and interactive displays with which to explore that era. The first was of course the vaudeville/Ziegfeld Follies period.

The next section featured Show Boat, often considered to be the first true musical theatre piece (rather than a revue). The cross section is of a tree trunk showing the time between 1927 when Show Boat first was produced, and 2022, the opening of the Museum of Broadway

The next section featured the “golden age” musicals such as Oklahoma, and the beginning of the Tony Awards.

Moving forward in time, there was a wonderful room dedicated to West Side Story, including a video highlighting the choreography. This was one of the many places you could insert yourself into the set, here behind Doc’s counter.

The next era included Cabaret, Hello Dolly and Hair (these costumes from the 2009 revival).

Interspersed with shows of the time were information and interactive exhibits about people who did important work in the time being portrayed (Hal Prince above, for example, or Bob Fosse and Stephen Sondheim here).

The large interactive exhibit about Company was in the timeline associated with when Company was first produced, but the sets shown here are from the recent Tony Award-winning revival (see a video of this room here.)

After “easing on down the road” from The Wiz, there was a large display about A Chorus Line, including this mirrored room, seen here on video.

After Annie, there was an interesting area about jukebox musicals, which are not all the same. As pointed out in the chart above, some are based on movies, others not, some feature the music of only one person/group (Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys MJ, A Beautiful Noise) and others of various artists (Moulin Rouge, Rock of Ages). They had a video screen showing clips from several of the jukebox musicals currently playing on Broadway that I expect will be changed out over time.

While Off-Broadway, The Public Theater has been an incubator for several shows that have gone on to Broadway. Continuing in time, there were small displays for Cats and La Cage Aux Folles.

The next room underlines the impact of the AIDS crisis on the Broadway community, and the creation of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Red ribbons cascade down next to a two walls filled with names of those who died of AIDS in the creative community.

Heading into the 80’s, there are displays for Evita, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, and of course the Phantom of the Opera. A large beaded curtain features a hidden Phantom mask that you can only see from a particular angle (see it here).

The next, large, room highlights Rent. I really enjoyed this room, as it had costumes, sets, props, cute interactive aspects (ring a doorbell and see who shows up at the door), a telephone where you can listen in to casting recollections, and a place to draw your own recollection and add it to the digital tribute wall.

Moving forward, you can see props from The Lion King, Avenue Q, and The Producers (you can sit behind the desk).

While not one of the larger exhibits, I enjoyed this section about Spring Awakening.

I loved the 360-degree set showing Wicked inside the Gershwin Theatre. You can see the public areas but also the backstage areas for warm ups and dressing rooms, and the backstage machinery that makes the set pieces move.

After a small display for Hamilton, there are panels for shows that opened each year, and I really loved that there were blank panels for the next several years. It’s exciting to think of what might lie ahead for us on Broadway!

Leaving Broadway through the years, you enter a very informative session about the creation of a Broadway show, from initial playwriting, to production and design, casting, out-of-town tryouts, and arrival on Broadway. There are many video interviews with creatives explaining how stage managers/stagehands/makeup artists, etc., work.

There is a section after this which will have special exhibits that switch out over time. The first one is about the art of Al Hirschfeld, and even has a fun interactive way to create your own Hirschfeld caricature.

Exiting again through the gift shop, I left happy with what I had experienced. I already have plans to bring someone else to the museum in the next several months, and this is the kind of place that you can spend as long or as little as you want while there. I would say the bare minimum of time would be about 90 minutes, and more if you want to really watch the videos, read and listen to information presented, and study the props and costumes. Tickets are $39 and up, and a portion of every ticket sale goes to Broadway Cares. Broadway is the heart of New York City, and I think a museum dedicated to this art form fills a need. Also – it’s fun . . . don’t forget to enjoy and let the sun shine in!

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