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Beginnings of Broadway Musicals New York

Posted on | February 12, 2011 | Comments Off on Beginnings of Broadway Musicals New York

In the United States, specifically, in New York City, Broadway theater (or theatre, in UK and Commonwealth nations) is the best form of professional theater to the general public. It comprises the elite and most lucrative for the performers and anyone involved in the production of the shows.  Broadway Theater (or Theatre) refers to the theatrical performances in the Theater District of New York City in Manhattan.  Performances are usually presented in one of the large professional theaters with more than 500 seats.  

As with London’s West End theatre, New York’s Broadway theater is considered the highest level of commercial theater in the English-speaking performing art world.       

First Broadway Theaters

The birth of the Broadway Theatre or simply Broadway has gone a long way. New York has long been home to the American musical. In the 1810s, the first theaters appeared on Manhattan’s Park Row but popular musical entertainment was primarily confined to inner city neighbourhoods like the Bowery that offered a mix of gospel, blues, minstrelsy, lieder of German beer-hall and Irish ballads, Yiddish music and plenty of accordion and violin.

The Broadway Black Crook Musical and European Influence

The Black Crook at Niblo’s Garden is considered to be the first musical.  However, after its success in 1866, something changed in the corner of Broadway and Prince along the smarter part of town. The “musical” gained a new respectability, highly reinforced by the arrival of the European operetta – French, German and Viennese – along with the English comic opera (buffa).    

By 1901, venues were alive that advertising executive O.J. Gude called Broadway the “Great White Way,” on account of all the electric lights on the advertising hoardings and theater billboards.  New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs had to move his paper’s offices to the area and created Times Square the following year.  

New Broadway Show, America’s Entertainment Capital

The subway came soon afterwards. Broadway was confirmed status as America’s entertainment capital. Show business became big business, and from 39th to 45th Street, with theaters, night clubs and restaurants alive, the area soon became home to  song publishers, booking agents, PR companies and trade suppliers, name it.

The writers of American popular music, worked for sheet music houses whose offices were clustered between West 28th Street and 6th Avenue. The area came to be known as the now-famous “Tin Pan Alley,” after journalist Monroe Rosenfeld compared the sound of its countless tinny pianos to the cacophony in a kitchen.

First Broadway Impresarios

By 1907, showmen like Florenz Ziegfeld and brothers Lee and Jacob Shubert had reinvented themselves as Broadway’s first impresarios. They made creative and financial contributions to their shows and in the process, changed the very nature of American stage performance.

Eventually, Ziegfeld and the Shubert brothers also became talent spotters and discovered some of the biggest names in Broadway history, including Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson and Marilyn Miller, Will Rogers, W.C. Fields and Fanny Brice. Later Broadway’s famous people included Rodgers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin with brother Ira, and Cole Porter.


Parkinson, David. The Rough Guide to Film Musicals. New York: Rough Guides Reference, 2007

(Original article published at