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New York Musicals - The Timeless Allure of New York Musicals

broadway theater “the history

With over 35 theaters to choose from, New York offers a tremendous variety of live shows, especially musicals. A 12 block stretch, reaching from West 42nd Street to West 53rd Street in Manhattan, make up New York City’s theater district, affectionately referred to as “The Great White Way.”

The first live theater in the Big Apple was the Playhouse, established in 1730, but the first electric marquis did not come about until 1891, which began the trend of each theater trying to “outshine” the next and compete for audiences’ attention. Famous jazz singer Al Jolson changed Broadway forever with the flamboyant, emotional- style performances he brought to Broadway’s Winter Garden theater with 9 consecutive sell-out shows from 1911 to 1928.

In the early 1930s, with the end of the vaudeville era, many entertainers feared that musicals would meet a similar fate. Some producers felt that “talking pictures” were hurting the live theater business, however, this was proved to be untrue, and despite the catastrophic financial circumstances of the times, Broadway musicals continued to thrive. Theaters on the Great White Way still turned out award-winning shows like “Girl Crazy,” “I Married an Angel,” and the longest running musical of the 1930s, “Of Thee I Sing.” The 1940s gave us “Louisiana Purchase,” “This is the Army,” and of course the surprise hit, and now-cultural phenomenon, “Oklahoma.”

The next two decades produced highly original and unique shows, like “I Do,” “Pocketful of Rhymes,” and “Riverwind.” In 1959 history was made with “The Sound of Music”, featuring the famous score by Rogers and Hammerstein, and the remarkable “West Side Story,” with its outstanding dance numbers, that entertained audiences for many years after its debut in 1961.

One of the most famous New York Musicals is arguably the surprise hit “Chicago,” which rolled out in 1975 and was based on the backstage life of dancers in the Windy City. That same year, “Chicago” found stiff competition in “A Chorus Line,” which was instantly a smash hit. In 1972, “Oh, Calcutta” was released in an off-Broadway venue, as many critics felt it would fail on Broadway since some of the scenes shocked audiences with the cast’s total nudity. However, as they sometimes are, the critics were wrong, and “Oh, Calcutta” became the 6th highest grossing New York Musical in History.

There is also a more serious side to Broadway that has been recognized by critics. Musicals based around social issues or historical events, have resulted in some of the most unique shows in Broadway history. This is evident in musicals such as “Rent,” which effectively portrayed the aids crisis when it debuted in 1986, and “Evita,” which showcased the life of Argentine political leader Evita Peron.

Certain New York Musicals enjoyed tremendous success that will be hard to top in years to come. “The Phantom of the Opera” was the longest running, top grossing Broadway musical of all times, and is still playing almost every night on Broadway as of August 2010. Coming in at second place is the celebrated “Cats,” which interestingly enough, features the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was also the composer for “The Phantom of the Opera.” “Cats” closed in 2000 after an incredible 18 years on Broadway, however, there are those who predict it will return for a second run at some point in the future. “Les Miserables,” a musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel by the same name, enjoyed a 16 year run on, making it the third longest running Broadway musical in history.

No matter what an individual’s personal preference, New York Musicals are sure to delight and entertain audiences of all ages, lifestyles, and cultural backgrounds. As long as Broadway has existed, people have traveled from around the country, and sometimes the world, to feel the magic of the musicals of New York, for which there is little competition. As time goes on and technology joins hands with creativity, such as with the moving sets of “The Lion King,” musicals can only get better and better. When traveling to New York, at the top of a tourist’s “must see” list, is the finest jewel of New York: The Great White Way.

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