Broadway Theatre, or simply Broadway, refers to any of the 40 professional theatres located in the Theatre District in Manhattan. It was there that Woody Allen became a successful playwright. Along with London’s West End theatre, Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.
The Broadway theatre district is a popular tourist attraction in New York. According to the Broadway League, Broadway shows sold approximately $1,081 billion worth of tickets in calendar year 2011, and the attendance that year was over 12 million.
In 1966 Woody Allen wrote “Don’t Drink the Water” (which was also released three years later as a film adaptation) and became a successful Broadway playwright. The next play Allen wrote that was produced on Broadway was “Play It Again, Sam”, in which he also starred. The play opened on February 12, 1969, and ran for 453 performances.
In 1981, Allen’s play “The Floating Light Bulb” premiered on Broadway and ran for 65 performances. While receiving mixed reviews, it was noted for giving an autobiographical insight into Allen’s childhood, specifically his fascination with magic tricks. He has written several one-act plays, including “Riverside Drive” and “Old Saybrook” which both explore well-known Allen themes.
Broadway theatres did not consolidate until a large number of theatres were built around Times Square in the 1920s and 1930s. After the lean years of the Great Depression, Broadway theatre entered its golden age. As hit after hit followed, it attained the highest level of international prestige.
New York did not have a significant theatre presence until about 1750, when actor-managers Walter Murray and Thomas Kean established a resident theatre company at the Theatre on Nassau Street, which held about 280 people. The Revolutionary War suspended theatre in New York, but soon performances resumed in 1798, the year the 2,000-seat Park Theatre was built on Chatham Street (now called Park Row). The Bowery Theatre opened in 1826 and was followed by others. Blackface minstrel shows, a distinctly American form of entertainment in which actors create a stereotyped caricature of a black person, became popular in the 1830s, and especially so with the arrival of the Virginia Minstrels in the 1840s. The plays of William Shakespeare were frequently performed on the Broadway stage during the period, most notably by American actor Edwin Booth, who was internationally known for playing the role of Hamlet. Since the mid 19th century, theatre in New York gradually moved from downtown to midtown, seeking less expensive real estate. In 1870, the heart of Broadway was in Union Square, and by the end of the century, many theatres were near Madison Square. Theatres did not arrive in Times Square area until the early 1900s. As transportation improved, poverty in New York diminished and street lighting made for safer travel at night, the number of potential patrons for the growing number of theatres increased enormously. Plays could run longer and still draw in the audiences, leading to better profits and improved production values. As a result, Broadway theatres continued to perform an increasing number of various forms of plays addressing a variety of topics. After the Great Depression the golden age of Broadway began. In 1943 the blockbuster hit “Oklahoma!” ran for 2,212 performances and year after year Broadway was gaining international recognition, becoming widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.
Although there are some exceptions, generally shows with open-ended runs have evening performances Tuesday through Saturday with a 7:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. performances on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays and at 3:00 p.m. on Sundays. Most shows do not play on Monday and the theatres are said to be “dark” on that day.
Most shows do not play on Monday, and the theatres are said to be “dark” on that day. Actors and crews tend to regard Sunday evening through Tuesday evening as their weekend.
Both musicals and stage plays on Broadway often rely on casting well-known performers in leading roles to draw larger audiences or bring in new audience members to the theatre. Actors from films and television are frequently cast for the revivals of Broadway shows or replace actors leaving a cast.
Most Broadway producers and theatre owners are members of the Broadway League – a trade organisation that promotes Broadway theatre as a whole, negotiates contracts with various theatrical unions and agreements with the guilds, and co-administers the Tony Awards with the American Theatre Wing, a service organisation.
Most Broadway shows are commercial productions intended to make a profit for the producers and investors, and therefore have open-ended runs, meaning that the length of their presentation is not set in advance, but depends on critical response and the effectiveness of the show’s advertising, which determine ticket sales.
Investing in a commercial production carries a varied degree of financial risk. Shows do not necessarily have to make a profit immediately. If they are making their “nut” (weekly operating expenses), or are losing money at a rate which the producers consider acceptable, they may continue to run in the expectation that, eventually, they will pay back their initial costs and become profitable. Historically, musicals on Broadway tend to have longer runs than “straight” (i.e. non-musical) plays. On January 9, 2006, “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Majestic Theatre became the longest running Broadway musical, with 7,486 performances, overtaking “Cats”.