“It’s about time!” That’s what entrepreneur and two-time Tony Award-winning producer Julie Boardman, co-founder of the newly opened Museum of Broadway, says about the 26,000-square-feet of interactive exhibitions devoted to the theater in Times Square.
And what better place for it than on West 45th Street, steps from the Lyceum Theatre, one of New York’s oldest operating theaters, and across the avenue from the Minskoff, where “The Lion King” is one of the longest running shows in town. The permanent museum officially opened on November 15.
I got a sneak peek last week to experience all the excitement you’d expect from a new show opening on the Great White Way. I spent hours examining floor-to-ceiling displays, posing for photos in the made-for-Instagram selfie backdrops and reading the detailed signs during a self-guided tour of this comprehensive, immersive experience devoted to musicals, plays and the people who make them.
“Coming out of COVID, it’s bit of a love letter to Broadway,” says Boardman, a former performer herself. New York theaters remained dark for 18 months during the pandemic. Thankfully, that unexpected intermission is over. Now, the lights are back on and business is booming.
The museum celebrates this by tracing the city’s theater history from its birth in the 1700s, when it was located in what’s now the financial district, to the present, with 41 active Broadway theaters in operation.
One fun fact I discovered: to qualify as a Broadway theater, not only does a house have to be in the Theater District, but it has to have 500 seats or more. Did you know that only two actually have Broadway addresses? The Broadway Theatre and Winter Garden.
Travel through the theater world’s visual timeline with a short introductory movie and music in every room to reflect the hottest shows from each time period. As you pull back the black velvet curtains, you’ll enter dozens of rooms filled with a myriad of props, artifacts, renderings and costumes from more than 500 productions.
You’ll see Bernadette Peters’ red sparkly sequined gown from “Hello, Dolly!,” a military-style jacket from “Hair,” Julie Taymor’s intricate “Lion King” creations, the fiberglass cast worn by the star of “Dear Evan Hansen” and period boots and clothing from “Hamilton.”
Sit at the counter in a scene recreated from Doc’s candy store in “West Side Story” while you watch a video of Jerome Robbins’ beautiful choreography. Pull up a chair and belt out the lyrics of “Willkommen” along with the cast of “Cabaret,” and wander the cornfields of “Oklahoma.”
Read original telegrams and scripts, see stage models and a sparkling Tony award. Learn about ground-breaking moments in theater history that transformed the landscape of Broadway and challenged social norms.
There’s also an exhibit acknowledging the toll the AIDS crisis had on the theater world in the 1980s and ‘90s. It includes a wall of names of some of those lost and one of the original quilts commemorating them.
You’ll discover how the seed of an idea begins the process of becoming a Broadway show and all the steps to get to opening night. Then, knock on a stage door and you’ll see what really goes on behind the scenes backstage in a theater, complete with lights and wires galore.
The museum’s first special exhibit – in a revolving gallery – pays tribute to artist Al Hirschfeld, whose caricatures of Broadway personalities appeared in The New York Times. He always hid the word “Nina,” the name of his daughter, several times within the lines of his drawings. Tablets are set up so visitors can create their own electronic caricatures.
Cellphone use is encouraged in this museum, where you can scan bar codes to order tickets to an actual show or find out more information in an exhibit.
The museum begins and ends at the gift shop, where you can pick up some souvenirs and holiday presents for the theater-lover on your list.