By Stephanie Meditz
After Broadway’s longest-ever hiatus for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Museum of Broadway permanently opened its curtains on Nov. 15 to remind NYC of the joy of live theater.
Located in Times Square in the midst of the landmark theaters it features, the Museum of Broadway allows visitors to explore a visual, interactive timeline of Broadway that spans three floors.
The Museum was founded by Julie Boardman and Diane Nicoletti, and it traces the origins of live theater in NYC, along with iconic productions’ historical contexts and influences on both later shows and society at large.
The first room is a hall of Playbills that features all currently running Broadway shows, followed by a brief film tracing the history of Broadway.
It features props from some of the earliest performances in the 18th and 19th centuries, followed by Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.’s infamous “Follies” that solidified the revue as the defining style of the early 20th century.
Classic Broadway shows with recent revivals such as “Oklahoma!”and “West Side Story” also originated in the 20th century.
“Oklahoma!”, a collaboration by the iconic duo of Queens composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, opened on Broadway in the midst of World War II and became a household name because of the escape from reality it allowed audiences.
Other landmark Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals include “The Sound of Music,” “Carousel,” “The King and I” and “Show Boat.” Like each show-specific room in the Museum, the “Oklahoma!” exhibit captures the show’s essence and Wild West aesthetic with rows of corn across the floor.
The “West Side Story” room resembles an Upper West Side store in the ‘50s, complete with a “dance along” screen featuring Jerome Robbins’ choreography to the iconic tracks “America” and “Cool.”
The room dedicated to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” features a costume worn by Michael Crawford, who originated the titular role.
Broadway’s longest-running musical, “The Phantom of the Opera” opened on Broadway in 1988 and will close on April 16 of this year.
The show boasts a whopping 13,907 Broadway performances, which the Museum commemorates with a crystal to represent each one.
From a certain angle, the crystals form the shape of the Phantom’s signature mask.
Other iconic artifacts include the glittery red dress worn by Ozone Park native Bernadette Peters in the 2017 revival of “Hello, Dolly!” and the matching headpiece worn by Peters, Bette Midler and Donna Murphy.
In addition to the glitz and glamor of Broadway sets and costumes, the museum does not shy away from the tragedies in Broadway’s history.
The AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s and early ‘90s had a drastic impact on copious Broadway actors, many of whom died from the disease.
The museum honors the lives lost with their names on the walls in a room dedicated to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BCEFA), an organization dedicated to providing medical assistance to individuals affected by HIV/AIDS.
Courtesy of BCEFA, it displays the AIDS memorial quilt, a symbol of unity despite differences that bears renowned Broadway productions’ titles or identifying symbols, including “Company” and “Cats.”
The Museum provides ample unique photo ops, including a ‘70s-inspired swing as a nod to “Hair” and an Instagram filter inspired by Disney’s “The Lion King.”
In this same spirit of modernity, current or recently closed productions like “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” receive recognition with memorabilia in the Museum.
The polo shirt and cast worn by Sam Primack during the final performance of “Dear Evan Hansen” keep the show and its message alive, reminding visitors that they are not alone.
With music by Cyndi Lauper, who grew up in Ozone Park and attended Richmond Hill High School, “Kinky Boots” brought love, acceptance and self-expression to Broadway for six years until its closure in 2019.
However, Lola’s glittery red thigh-high boots live on in the Museum.
The Museum also displays boots worn by Lin-Manuel Miranda in the titular role of his hip-hop Broadway sensation “Hamilton,” as well as Eliza Schuyler’s trademark blue dress.
Although it opened in 2015, “Hamilton” still makes theater buffs long to be in the room where it happens at the Richard Rodgers Theatre because of its interpretation of America’s past through the lens of the present.
At the 70th Tony Awards in 2016, the show won 11 out of its 16 nominations.
Miranda won Best Original Score, and Best Lead Actor in a Musical went to Queens native Leslie Odom Jr. for his portrayal of Aaron Burr.
In addition to onstage action, the museum dedicates an entire floor to the often overlooked superheroes of Broadway, namely stagehands, producers, general managers, agents, makeup artists, costume designers and many others.
With its dim lighting and real equipment, this floor simulates the feeling of being backstage at a real show.
Designed by David Rockwell and presented by https://www.broadway.com, it details the roles of the many people besides actors who bring a show to the stage.
The Museum also reserves space for rotating special exhibits, which is currently occupied by curator David Leopold’s “The American Theatre as seen by Hirschfeld.”
Broadway veterans such as Anthony Rapp, the original Mark Cohen in “Rent,” and Andrea McArdle, who originated the titular role in “Annie,” have recently visited the Museum.
Tickets are available from $39 at https://www.themuseumofbroadway.com/tickets#/.
The Museum will donate a portion of each ticket sale to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.