New York City is often considered to be the pinnacle for so many industries. Fashion, finance, fine dining, sports, and literature reign supreme over the metropolitan landscape. So does theater. Pre-Covid, Broadway theater in the 2018-2019 season saw 14.77 million patrons; the season grossed $1.83 billion, according to The Broadway League.
The League also found, during the same season, that Broadway attendance surpassed those of the ten professional NYC Metro-area sports teams combined. Obviously, musicals and plays are a huge draw for residents and tourists alike, but one thing has been missing for avid fans of the New York stage: a museum.
Since 1750, audiences have been piling into opulent spaces to be enthralled and entertained by a variety of stage offerings. Undeniably, that’s an enormous amount of performance history to accrue.
Tony Award-winning producer Julie Boardman and her colleague and friend Diane Nicoletti thought so too. Together, the pair recently opened The Museum of Broadway in the heart of Manhattan’s theater district and Times Square.
“Several years ago, someone mentioned to me that there wasn’t a Broadway Museum,” says Nicoletti. “It stopped me in my tracks. Why wouldn’t there be one?”
She explains how the idea came to fruition. “Julie and I spent the first-year whiteboarding and brainstorming on how we would tell the story and history of Broadway. We were serious but at the same time, we didn’t know where it was going to lead. Then, we started taking it on a goodwill tour around the Broadway community and started building the team, finding the real estate, and taking all the steps to actually make it happen. It was a five-year journey and a was a real roller coaster but ultimately, it was so fulfilling.”
“We knew we wanted it to be in Times Square and we wanted the space to be conducive to create the guest experience we imagined,” says Boardman of finding a sanctuary for their dream.
Dining and drinking establishments infamously closed their doors either in the middle of the lockdown or shortly thereafter. Among them, O’Lunneys, a notable Irish pub on West 45th street. “That bar was a COVID casualty, but it presented an opportunity for us,” says Boardman. “Plus, it’s located right next to the Lyceum theater, the oldest continuously operating Broadway theater. The fact that we share a wall with that space is a really cool story.”
Like any new business, the pair were faced with several obstacles, but they endured. In the male-dominated entertainment industry, many key players had reservations that two younger females could create something so grand for a community with such a rich history.
“My grandmother had a quote,” Boardman says. “‘If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.’ That really kept me going.”
“There were days that we were on top of the world and days when we wondered if it would even happen,” Nicoletti adds. “We were often each other’s cheerleaders, and the rest of the team was so supportive and encouraging.”
Boardman and Nicoletti speak highly of their team, all of whom helped to make the museum a reality. Each of the curators is an expert in a specific aspect of theater.
With so much show business history, how did the team decide what would be on display?
“We really wanted to highlight game-changing shows — or at least game changers that could be supported by educational arguments,” says Nicoletti, pointing out Shuffle Along, Hair, Rent, A Chorus Line, and Hamilton as several examples. “The curators helped us secure artifacts like costumes and props.”
Boardman credits prior generations for their daring spirit. “As you walk through the timeline, you get the sense of these people who pioneered and took risks and pushed boundaries to get us where we are today,” she says. “Upon entering the museum, there is a neon sign that reads ‘We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.’ All of the shows on Broadway today are a product of all these people having done all this work. We approached things from a social issue perspective into creating this museum.”
Guests to the museum should expect to spend about 90 minutes strolling through the space, soaking in tons of Broadway trivia. There are plenty of camera-friendly spots and a high dose of showtunes piping through the speakers — many of which complement each exhibit. Homage is also paid in a somber room that remembers LGBTQ artists whose lives were cut short by the AIDS epidemic.
Since opening last November, politicians, Broadway stars, tourists, and New Yorkers alike have embraced the city’s newest addition. Marta Gryb, a spokesperson for the museum, cites current visitor statistics. “We’ve seen visitor demographics that are roughly in line with the Broadway industry as a whole. We’ve had a strong turnout of visitors from New York and the tri-state area, and over 50 percent of guests who have visited the Museum have been from over 200 miles beyond NYC.”
Adam Guy, a licensed New York City tour guide from “I Know a Guy Tours” has referred several clients to the attraction. “Anyone taking a trip to Broadway would be remiss not to visit the museum,” he says. “It’s sort of the missing piece that hasn’t been there. Broadway has been around forever and there have been little attempts over time to capture pieces of the history, but this museum pulls it all together.”
“It’s such a natural extension of Times Square. It’s intriguing and engaging and makes you want to learn more about the history of Broadway,” says Robyn Toppall, visiting from Burke, Virginia. “The Phantom of the Opera exhibit was just the coolest thing ever!”
Even hard to impress New Yorkers are happy with it. “For me, it was hearing Fanny Brice when I first walked in,” says Chris Carhart, a Chelsea resident and theater enthusiast. “That doesn’t happen at Starbucks.”
Founders and staff for the Museum of Broadway are relieved that it’s finally up and running. Looking ahead, they plan to offer educational outreach, master classes, and panel discussions. They also intend to change special exhibits and offer incentivized pricing for students, seniors, and tour groups.
The Museum of Broadway is at 145 West 45th St. between 6th and 7th Avenue, in New York City. Tickets are $33 to $53. Call 800-447-7400 or visit www.themuseumofbroadway.com.
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