During the early 1900s Broadway began to develop as a cultural center on New York City.
In its beginnings Broadway was not taken seriously by the public.
Characterized by charm and simplicity, the theater district attracted large audiences of middle class people in search of music, excitement, and romance, the best seats in the house only costing $1.50 to $2.00.
For the most part during this time period, the audience often became very involved in the plays, sometimes talking to the actors, hissing, or clapping. All theaters at this time had a pit orchestra that played before the show, during intermission, and after the show, engaging the audience in music.
During the 1920s, Broadway reached its prime.
Many of the old buildings originally used for housing were now used to display signs, such as adds for "Lucky Strike" and "Pepsi Cola."
During these years, the number of productions increased from 126 in 1917 to 264 in 1928, which is still the all-time peak of Broadway production.
Overall in the 1920s, Broadway was bursting with energy and enterprise. The theater was filled with hope and fresh ideas, and new styles of craftsmanship. And with the organization of the Theater Guild by Lawrence Langner, Broadway became a brilliant center that influenced the theater of the world.
When the United States declared war on Germany and Japan in 1941, Broadway demonstrated that although it was liberal in politics and morals, it was conservative in its loyalty to the nation. The American Theater Wing separated from British War Relief to concentrate on American needs, quickly becoming a major Broadway industry drawing the talent and benevolence of hundreds of theater people. Many of these people involved in Broadway theater volunteered to help the war effort, doing tasks that ranged from addressing envelopes to writing stage sketches. The stage sketches were mostly done on themes that related to the public morale and workers in the war industries.
Beginning in the thirties, and in the forties 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, the street most associated with Times Square, began to look less and less like a theater district. The theater business was declining all over the city to the point where there were not enough productions to support the available playhouses.
Most theaters on Broadway were now film houses. Movies were beginning to take over the entertainment business, and theater as an industry had become obsolete,
In the beginning of the century, theaters were both a good investment and a symbol of vivacity and mirth. After World War II, however, theater buildings became unprofitable, and were sometimes considered dangerous after a fire in Chicago in 1902. Also by the 1940s television was becoming a worthy competitor for Broadway theater, providing the public with free entertainment. The result of all these pressures on Broadway theater was a shocking 80% unemployment rate for Broadway actors in 1948, and for the first time in its history, Broadway had to call a general emergency meeting for all the unions and theater people.
After 1950, Broadway and the theater business continued their decline that began in the thirties. In 1969-1970 there were only 62 productions, 15 of which were revivals, and by 1969 there were only 36 playhouses left, compared to the 70 or 80 in the twenties. However Broadway was still attracting audiences from other parts of the country - approximately one-third of the people going to the theaters in New York were out of town visitors who often saw as many as five shows during their stay.
Despite the fact that Broadway at this time was depressed, there were many memorable musicals that emerged in 1950-1970. Some of these shows included West Side Story, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, Wonderful Town, The Most Happy Fella, The Sound of Music, Fidler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha, and Hair. Because it had become such a hysterical task to undertake a theater production at this time, only the most enthusiastic people would become involved, which would account for some of these extravagant musical plays that were produced during this time period.
Seeing a Broadway show is a common tourist activity in New York, and Broadway shows sell about a billion dollars worth of tickets annually, helping the tourist industry to generate billions more in restaurant and hotel revenues. The TKTS booths sell same-day tickets (and in certain cases next-day matinee tickets) for many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows at a discount of 25%, 35%, or 50%.
This service helps sell seats that would otherwise go empty and makes seeing a show in New York more affordable. Many Broadway theatres also offer special student rates, same-day "rush" or "lottery" tickets, or standing-room tickets to help ensure that their theatres are as full, and their "grosses" as high as possible.
Important Show: Phantom of the Opera Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera is a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux.
The musical opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre, on January 26,1988 and is the longest-running Broadway musical of all time.
With total worldwide box office takings of over $5.1 billion Phantom is the highest-grossing entertainment event of all time. The New York production alone has grossed US $715 million, making it the most financially successful Broadway show in history.
Important Show: Les Misérables (Les Miz) Les Misérables (Les Miz)
The musical is based on the 1862 novel Les Mis érables by Victor Hugo. Set in early 19th-century France, it follows the intertwining stories of a cast of characters as they struggle for redemption and revolution.
The Broadway production opened on March 12, 1987 at the Broadway Theatre.
The musical ran at the Broadway Theatre through October 10, 1990, when it moved to the Imperial Theatre. It was scheduled to close on March 15, 2003, but the closing was postponed by a surge in public interest.
After 6,680 performances in sixteen years, when it closed on May 18, 2003, it was the second-longest-running Broadway musical after Cats. More recently, its position has fallen to the third-longest-running Broadway musical after The Phantom of the Opera ascended initially to the second and, in 2006, to the number one spot.
Les Misérables began a limited return to Broadway on November 9, 2006 at the Broadhurts Theatre. On December 19, 2006, it was announced that Les Misérables would extend its run until September 1, 2007. It was announced that the show would have an open-ended run rather than a set closing date.
The revival closed on January 6, 2008. Combined with the original production's 6,680 performances, Les Misérables has played 7,176 performances on Broadway.
Rent is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boh ème .
It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York's Lower East Side in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of AIDS.
The musical opened at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996.
The musical brought an ethnically diverse cast and controversial topics to a traditionally conservative medium, helping to increase the popularity of musical theatre amongst the younger generation.
The Broadway production closed on September 7, 2008, after a 12-year run and 5,124 performances, making it the eighth-longest-running Broadway show , eight years behind The Phantom of the Opera.
The story is based on the best-selling novel Wicked:The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West . by Gregory Maguire, a parallel novel of L. Frank Baum’s classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the witches of the Land of Oz.
Wicked tells the story of Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West and her relationship with Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.
The plot is set mostly before Dorothy’s arrival from Kansas, and includes several references to well-known scenes and dialogue in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz as a backstory.
The musical debuted on Broadway on October 30, 2003.
The Broadway production's success spawned productions in Chicago, Los Angeles, London's West End, Tokyo,Melbourne, and Stuttgart, as well as two North American tours that have visited over 30 cities in Canada and the United States.
Wicked has broken box office records around the world, holding weekly-gross-takings records in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, and London.