Broadway has been with us for a very long time; it has seen two great wars and has lived to tell about it. The term “Broadway” refers to a location in the theater district of Manhattan. New York City. It is important to understand that before a performance earns the title “Broadway play” it must be held in one or more of the forty theaters in the district that has more than 500 seats.
The history of Broadway started 267 years ago, it all started with the vision of two brothers namely Thomas Kean and Walter Murray and Shakespeare. Off course by then, Shakespeare was long dead, so what they did has they put on plays written by Shakespeare to an audience of more than 200.
The first major hit on Broadway was a play by john gay, titled “the beggar’s opera” this play attracted huge crowds. When the revolutionary war broke out in 1775 Broadway had to go underground because people were too busy killing each other, thankfully after the war was over Broadway recovered soon after and rose through the years into what it is today.
As theater got popular the first major theater was constructed, the Park Theater had the capacity to hold more than 2000 audience members. This theater was followed up by a second theater named “Bowery Theater”
In 1826 the broadways success led to the construction of even more theaters.
One of the most notable was Niblo’s Garden; this theater produced musical and nonmusical acts and was the most popular night spot in New York City at the beginning of the 19th century. Back then things were very different; your social class determined the shows you could attend and where you could sit.
In 1849 when a new theater opened named the Astor, the lower-class patrons started a riot that was triggered by what some say is the snobbery of the upper class. The problem was the middle class only had access to minstrel shows and melodramas, and the working class only had access to variety shows.
Back then the most popular plays were by Shakespeare, but that all changed when musicals came into the picture. The most popular musical was “The Elves” this play has been on Broadway for a very long time, in fact, it is one of the longest running plays. Other popular long-running musicals on Broadway are:
- The seven sisters by Laura Keane
- The Black Crook
You can say that the middle of the 19th century was the golden age for Broadway, back then real estate was inexpensive thus more theaters were built and more plays produced. This also meant that more money was being made on Broadway.
Forward to the 20th century and we saw the rise of “princes’ theater”, these shows had a modern touch to them and were mostly written by Guy Bolton, victor Herbert, and PG Wodehouse.