Museum of Broadway lobby — Photo courtesy of Darren Cox
The new Museum of Broadway celebrates the history of New York City’s famous theater district. It takes visitors on a fascinating journey through major theatrical milestones, with a behind-the-scenes look at how musicals and dramas come to life in New York’s legendary Broadway theaters.
The museum’s curtain was officially raised last Fall, and it has already become a must-see stop on any theater lover’s visit to Manhattan. Located steps away from Times Square and next door to the historic Lyceum Theater — coincidentally, the city’s oldest continuously operating playhouse — the show-stopping Museum of Broadway offers three floors of interactive exhibits.
A self-guided experience, this family-friendly museum’s vibrant displays trace the history of live theater in New York, from colonial days through the Vaudeville era. It also features many modern blockbuster hits like “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King” and other award-winning shows (most with instantly recognizable original scores).
Enjoy an immersive Broadway musical theater experience
“West Side Story” exhibit — Photo courtesy of Darren Cox
Exhibits capture scenes from classic shows like “West Side Story” and “Oklahoma.” The museum’s collection of memorabilia includes costumes, photos, scripts and original stage design models. Seeking a backstage pass? Even the stairwells between floors get into the action, serving as access to not-so-private “backstage” areas of the museum. This experience give guests a glimpse of how massive productions are staged for live audiences.
Much like the Broadway performances themselves, this museum finds ways to surprise and delight guests. The one-way journey from the museum’s top floor to the inevitable exit through the gift shop is guided by a team of enthusiastic docents — aspiring and current Broadway actors, producers and technicians. All are eager to share their knowledge about the live theater capital of the world. For example, during our stop in a recreated drug store scene from the musical “West Side Story,” the actor shared a tip about the projected closing date of the long-running “Phantom of the Opera” at the Majestic Theater. She explained that it “might” be extended if ticket sales remain strong.
Admire iconic costumes from many popular Broadway shows
“Phantom of the Opera” costumes — Photo courtesy of Darren Cox
According to Julie Boardman, co-founder of the Museum of Broadway, the idea for this museum has been kicked around for years. While other venues, such as the Museum of the City of New York, have staged exhibits focused on theater history, this is the first destination that celebrates Broadway in one place.
Boardman, a Tony award-winning theatrical producer, began brainstorming the idea for the museum with partner Diane Nicoletti, whose background includes producing the traveling “Game of Thrones Fan Experience,” about five years ago.
Boardman says, “We worked collaboratively with people in the theater industry to create this.” She noted that the many items on display were either loaned and donated to the museum, including costumes from “Phantom,” original models of the stage setup for “Wicked,” and a collection of Broadway-related caricatures by renowned artist Al Hirschfeld.
Go backstage for some intriguing exhibits
Backstage exhibit — Photo courtesy of Darren Cox
She pointed out that authenticity was always at top of mind when developing the museum. She explained that for instance, the audio instructions that visitors hear in the backstage areas of the museum were recorded by actual stage managers and directors.
Nicoletti says that her experience with the “Game of Thrones” exhibit convinced her that museum visitors are not only interested in costumes and props, but also in learning how shows go from story to script to stage. The goal is for the museum to be fun, educational and inspiring for all. “We want guests to learn about all the shows and all the people who came before the shows ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Wicked,'” she explained.
The museum isn’t all glitter and dazzle: a somber display featuring a portion of the AIDS memorial quilt and plays inspired by the AIDS epidemic, like “Angels in America,” encourage visitors to pause and reflect about those lost to AIDS and related illnesses. The museum also donates a portion of its proceeds to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS charity.
The Museum of Broadway will continue to evolve and grow. A new “sparkle wall” was recently added to the “Ziegfeld Follies” exhibit, for example, and newly acquired materials enhance displays that feature “The Music Man” and “Beetlejuice.”
See state-of-the-art exhibits with virtual storytelling
“Phantom of the Opera” crystal exhibit — Photo courtesy of Darren Cox
Virtual storytelling is also a major part of the guests’ experience at this museum. For example, a 3D sculpture in the “Phantom of the Opera” exhibit continues to be enhanced. A deconstructed chandelier sculpture (inspired by the one in the Paris Opera House), magically transforms into the Phantom’s mask when viewed from a particular angle. For every performance of Broadway’s longest-running show — nearly 14,000 to date — another glass bead is added to this vivid sculpture.
“Everyone has a different entry point to Broadway — whether that’s hearing the music on the radio, or just seeing a show the night before,” says Boardman, whose childhood interest in the stage was crystalized by a Broadway visit at age 10, when she and her family attended performances of “Cats,” “Jelly’s Last Jam,” and the Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes in a single trip.
Boardman expects guests will leave the museum with a deeper appreciation of how a show is made, and to ultimately enhance the Broadway theater experience — not take the place of it. “We want our visitors to understand how and why Times Square is what it is today — because people took chances and were trailblazers. And we hope our guests will take a chance on seeing plays they maybe haven’t heard of.”