A History of NYC's Theatre District

Before the Depression (The Great White Way)

One section of Broadway earned the nickname "the Great White Way." This section includes Times Square, and it was among the first sections of roadway to be electrically illuminated, which took place in 1880. Just more than a decade later, more parts of the theater district were brilliantly lit, so much so that people started calling Broadway the Great White Way. Before the Depression, many shows appearing in the theater district were vaudeville performances, and emerging motion pictures were in direct competition for audience attention during this time. Producers and composers continued to apply their skills to their craft, however, and the season of 1927-28 was among the most successful for Broadway.

The Great Depression, World War II, and "the Golden Age"

When the Great Depression hit, Broadway was also hit hard. The years between 1929 and 1939 were hard ones all the way around. Many people couldn't afford to eat or keep their homes, let alone go to the theater to see shows. Many theaters closed, and performers were unemployed like many other people during this time. When World War II began, Broadway experienced a revival. In fact, it was during World War II that Oklahoma! debuted on Broadway, which helped to gain attention for the New York City theater district and ushered in Broadway's Golden Age. The Golden Age lasted from 1943 to 1959, and this era is known for many timeless musicals, such as West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and The King and I.

Modern Theater

Broadway continues to evolve to appeal to its audience. With the wild popularity of shows like Wicked and Hamilton, young people are showing a greater interest in the theater district of New York City. Broadway producers keep working to create shows that appeal to audience interests and tastes, often trying to find a niche that challenges perceptions and ideas to gain even more attention. The theater scene also often showcases popular adaptations of familiar stories and characters in an attempt to appeal to audiences.

Important People in Broadway's History

A number of people have played big roles in Broadway history over the years. Harold Prince is a legendary Broadway producer who has won Tony awards for many of his productions. Prince has built a reputation on producing a wide range of shows on Broadway, including West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and Phantom of the Opera. Trevor Nunn is a musical director who directed Cats and the initial English production of Les Misérables. While many performers make history for their roles in Broadway shows, Betty Buckley is one performer whose contributions are undeniable. Buckley is most known for her Tony-winning performance as Grizabella in Cats.

Longest-Running Shows

Many productions have impressive runs on Broadway, and some of the longest-running shows are still open. The Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running Broadway show in history. It opened in 1988, and it is still playing today, notching more than 12,700 performances. Chicago occupies the second spot on the list; the 1996 revival of this show has run for more than 9,000 performances and counting. In third place is The Lion King. This Disney-inspired show opened in 1997, and it continues to run, tallying more than 8,700 shows to date.

Off-Broadway Theater

Off-Broadway theater is similar to Broadway theater, but the venues are smaller than the ones on Broadway. Off-Broadway productions might be musicals or plays. The off-Broadway movement began during the 1950s as an alternative to the shows on Broadway, offering opportunities to many more performers and artists. Some Off-Broadway shows have transitioned to Broadway, such as Godspell and Hamilton.