A Brief History of Broadway

by Cristin Maldarella

Where did Broadway start and how has it grown to become so well known for its incredible musical theatre productions? It all began in the eighteenth century (1750 to be exact) when Thomas Kean and Walter Murray opened a theatre company on Nassau Street in New York City. In this theatre, the productions mainly consisted of Shakespearian plays and ballad operas.

In the nineteenth century, the theatre was becoming more popular and more theatres were being built. One notable theatre that was built in New York was the Niblo’s Garden which was located at Prince and Broadway Street. In this theatre, there were a variety of productions including but not limited to musicals.

P.T. Barnum opened an entertainment complex in lower Manhattan and it caused offense to the people and rioting. The entertainment complex later became a circus, which actually remained open until May 21, 2017. A musical was recently made about P.T. Barnum’s life called The Greatest Showman and is currently extremely popular to the public.

During this time period, Shakespeare was still extremely popular and many of his plays were brought to Broadway. It was in the mid-nineteenth century that musicals started being performed. The first long run musical was called The Elves, which was played for fifty performances. There were many other musicals that followed The Elves including The Seven Sisters, the Black Crook, and the Mulligan Guard Picnic.

Because of how inexpensive it was, theatres were moved to Broadway. Many theatres were located in that area.

As the twentieth century came about, what is known as “Princess Theatre” became popular. Princess Theatre shows were musicals that were set in modern times. Many of these shows were written by Victor Herbert, Guy Bolton, and P.G. Wodehouse.

A law was passed in 1919 requiring all professional productions to have standard contracts. Theatre’s popularity began to decrease when motion pictures gained sound, and in the Roaring Twenties, the music began to take a toll on the popularity of music with a plot. Theatre plummeted.

As time went on, musical theatre made a comeback. Broadway productions became more popular and expensive. To this day, Broadway theatres are the most popular musical theatres in the world. Some of the most popular productions include The Lion King, Mary Poppins, The Fiddler on the Roof, Dear Evan Hansen, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, and many more.

Despite Broadway’s plummet in popularity in the early twentieth century, it is still incredibly popular and to this day there are productions of the most popular musicals in the world. The longest-running Broadway show is The Phantom of the Opera which is based on the novel by Gaston Leroux and has been on Broadway since 1986 and is still running today. The second longest-running Broadway musical is Chicago which is followed up by The Lion King, Cats, and Les Miserables.

Broadway has existed for a long time, however, it took a long time to gain the popularity and respect that it has today. The musical productions of Broadway have become extremely popular to the public over the years and it now has the most popular musical productions of all time.