Raising the Curtain on… Broadway

Presidents, assassins, high school cliques, founding fathers, and street gangs, lions, cats, witches and even genies: there isn’t much you can’t find on Broadway. It’s like a planet of its own. But how strong is its gravitational pull? How does it look through a telescope? Will it Pluto any time soon? Let’s see..

Hope you (and your headphones!) are prepared for the magic carpet trip.

What is Broadway?

Did you know that Mike Tyson could act? Neither did I, till I heard about his one-man show ‘Undisputed Truth’ on Broadway. You see, there is more to the stage than musical numbers and choreography: There are stories, morals, emotions, ambitions, nightmares, and opinions, and not all of them come wrapped up in rhyming words and addictive tunes.

According to Wikipedia, Broadway refers to the theatrical performances presented in the 41 professional theatres with 500 or more seats, located in the Theatre District and Lincoln Centre along Broadway, New York City. 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.

You may have heard about off-broadway shows. These are shows with seatings below 500. If the maximum number of attendees is 100, then you are in an off-off-broadway show.

Although Broadway is most associated with musicals, shows could also be solos, (one-man acts) or plays (theatrical productions without music). Sources of these could be original ideas and personal experiences, books, movies, or true events under an artistic license.

An important factor in preserving the continuity of Broadway is revivals. These are similar to rebooting a film, with new actors and effects, or releasing it on DVD, with new bonus materials.

As with several forms of entertainment, excellence is recognised on Broadway. Several awards are associated with that purpose, with the capital one being the Tony awards. These are presented annually at a ceremony in New York. The Tony Awards are also famous for being a show of its own, with hosts outperforming one another each year. Its British and French counterparts are the Laurence Olivier Award and Molière Award, respectively.

The cast of Hamilton at the 2016 Tony Awards, where they won Best Musical.

 

What Happens on Broadway?

Drama! (in the modern sense of the word)

It isn’t the only thing that happens, neither does it happen very often. But when it does, it is unafraid. Just last year, the cast of ‘Hamilton’ reminded the US-Vice President, Mike Pence, on the importance of diversity, on and off stage.

This is only one example of the social and political feathers on Broadway’s wings. Not that it always needs to break the fourth wall to do so. Throughout the past century, discussing ‘controversial’ topics such as racism, sexual orientations, and religions were sung along to. Parents had back-up when explaining things, and minority groups’ struggles were brought to the forefront. Granted, the lost generation’s World War has been switched for millennials’ anxiety, depression, and peer pressure, but it is still a battle zone. The stage’s impact does not end there- for example, there exists the Broadway Cares’ Movement, an American non-profit organization, headquartered in New York City. It is the theatre community’s response to the AIDS crisis. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the theatre community, on Broadway, Off-Broadway and across the country, the organization raises funds for AIDS-related causes across the United States.

Movers and Shakers?

To many people, the beauty of Broadway lies in its relatability. We all feel as though we are alone at one point of our lives, but it is often the small things that remind us that we are a fundamental part of the human experience. To summarise that in rhyming words and choreographed movements is an art, and Broadway is home to many such artists. Some of the most famous and my favourites are:

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • Cole Porter
  • Sutton Foster
  • Christian Borle
  • James Monroe Iglehart
  • Ramin Karimloo
  • Julie Andrews
  • Mandy Patinkin
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Kristin Chenoweth

And the future?

For a long time, Broadway had to compete with motion pictures for attention and message broadcasting. In a way, it still does.

Then La La Land happened. And Beauty and The Beast clawed away controversy to the golden screen, and what 90s-kid can forget High School Musical?

While it may seem like I am ticking off blockbusters, I am actually ticking off intersection points. These movies, and many more, are like Romeo and Juliet. They defied the assumption that the stage and films need be on opposite sides. This, combined with the renowned success of recent musicals, paints the idea that Broadway is not about to be buried anytime soon.

 

Here’s a Spotify playlist of some new Broadway classics, so slip on those headphones and enjoy!

 

Feature image: theodysseyonline.com

By Renad Sadig

 

Writer, feminist, theatre enthusiast, but most importantly a purveyor of the importance of performing arts, from dance to spoken word and all in between.

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