aBroadway theaters are trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and a new museum is looking to attract theatergoers and fans by chronicling the history and magic of Broadway.
The Broadway Museum, which opens November 15 in Times Square, takes visitors through the eras of Broadway shows. It includes memorabilia and history of Long Island’s Broadway stars, Northport’s Patti LuPone and Syosset’s Idina Menzel, and musical-era notes that include Billy Joel’s catalog in “Movin’ Out.”
The museum shows how Broadway evolved and showed a rebirth after the historical eras of the Great Depression, World War II, crime in the 1970s and 9/11.
Broadway has been dark for its entire run, 18 months, during the pandemic, and the museum’s founders say they hope to usher in a new era for the theater district.
The museum was founded by Tony Award-winning producer Julie Boardman and creative director Diane Nicoletti. They referred to the reflections of society in earlier plays such as “Oklahoma!” and Menzel’s “Cabaret” and “Rent”, the latter of which depicted the 1980s AIDS epidemic.
“It’s always impossible to know what the future might hold. I think we see the theater come to life around you and we start to see the idea that the art we created reflects the society of the day,” Boardman said. “It all starts with that idea on a blank page, and when you walk through history, you see the social problems of the day and the various shows that are being created.”
The founders hope the museum will become a destination for theater lovers and Long Islanders visiting the city.
A walk through the museum takes visitors from the past to the present and chronicles the emergence of the New York City theater scene. Broadway shows began in Midtown Manhattan with vaudeville acts and moved into the modern theater district, which emerged from cheaper real estate and the golden age of Broadway after World War II.
Long Island’s contributions to the museum begin with LuPone starring as Eva Perón on Broadway in “Evita.” The museum features LuPone’s original costume, wig, and poster from the musical.
Other nods to her work include the original set from “The Company” as well as a martini glass prop from LuPone and sticky notes from the 2021 revival; And her shoes and captain’s hat from the 1987 revival of “Anything Goes.”
The wig worn by Patti LuPone during “Evita” and the hat and tap shoes LuPone wore during a revival of “Anything Goes” are on display Tuesday at the New Broadway Museum at W 45th Street in Times Square. Credit: Craig Rattle
“Patty had a legendary career and made many appearances at the museum,” said Nicoletti. “We really sought after elements of the individual shows in the schedule. The fact that they are still performing to this day made it easier to buy things.”
Menzel has been highlighted for her work on the original cast of “Rent”, in an exhibition by original stage designer Paul Clay. Visitors can pick up a rotating payphone to hear interviews with the cast while never-before-seen footage of Menzel and other cast members from the original show is shown next to a replica of the fire escape. The exhibit also includes handwritten notes and letters by the late playwright Jonathan Larson.
The “Wicked” exhibit features Menzel singing his signature song “Defying Gravity” on a 360-degree model of the Gershwin Theatre. Wicked was created by model Edward Pearce to showcase all the elements behind the production, from the stage to behind the scenes.
Pictures of Idina Menzel lying on a wall depicting the set of “Rent” and an incredibly detailed model of the stage and stage show “Wicked,” in which Menzel starred, are at the New Broadway Museum at W. 45th Street in New York City. Times Square. Credit: Craig Rattle
“It was a game-changing show because you could see how many people you brought in to do groundbreaking things on Broadway,” Nicoletti said. “Wicked brought children, families, and the younger generation to Broadway, and what’s more important to the vitality of Broadway moving forward is bringing in the new generations.”
Another era of Broadway features Joel’s “Movin’ Out,” which ran for over 1,300 performances, along with other musicals such as “Mamma Mia!” and “Moulin Rouge”.
Other treasures at the museum include collections from “West Side Story” and “The Producers,” a collection of Tony Awards, Aladdin’s lamp, Elsa’s wig from “Frozen,” Harry Potter’s wand, and costumes from “Hamilton.”
The museum offers homages to “West Side Story” including a version of Doc’s Drugstore from the original production, “The Producers”, “Hello Dolly”, “Porgy and Bess”, “Showboat”, and “A Chorus Line”. Credit: Craig Rattle
From there, visitors can “laze on the road” from “The Wiz” to go behind the scenes of a theatrical production, behind the scenes to see things like props, costume design, makeup, lighting, and sound.
The museum’s signature exhibit, “American Theatre,” runs through the spring and features the artwork of Al Hirschfeld, best known for his Playbill illustrations and cartoons.
The museum’s founders say the museum will continually evolve, which could include other Long Island Broadway stars such as Billy Crystal and “Mr. Saturday Night,” who completed his run after his “700 Sunday” hit in the movie “700 Days.”
“In theatre, you go into a darkened room, surrounded by strangers, and watch what happens on stage that can never exist again,” Boardman said. “It kind of changes some hearts and minds and perspectives as you walk off the stage. We’ve been through COVID and politically charged times like George Floyd. I think those are all things that will be reflected on stage in the years to come.”
It is open from 10 am to 10 pm daily
145 West 45th Street Manhattan
Timed tickets are available online at themuseumofbroadway.com