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If you don’t visit Broadway in downtown Manhattan, you haven’t visited the heart of New York City. The theater district is home to musicals and stage plays every day and evening, at any of its 39 larger theaters. Testament to the importance of the district is the approximately $937 million worth of tickets which were sold in the 2007-08 season. Yet even more productions may be found in the smaller theaters referred to as “off Broadway. ” The sounds, sights, and smells create a sensory experience unlike any other.

Exhaust fans from restaurants, which serve the finest in cuisine, spew forth an assortment of tantalizing aromas and mix with the exhaust from taxicabs as they shuttle theater goers down the congested one-way street known as “Great White Way. ” The “Great White Way,” named after the magnificent illumination of white lights which ran for nearly a mile. It was the first street in the United States to be lit entirely with electric lights. The name remained, joined by millions of lights of all colors on the theater marquees and the billboard advertisements that illuminate the area.

Broadway has presented shows which have their source of influence seated in the events of the time, whether they are of a comedic nature or in a more dramatic presentation. Before film, there was Broadway; and Broadway has given a variety of individuals the venue to showcase their talents: writers, directors, dancers, actors, singers, scenery artists, choreographers. Names like Stephen Sondheim, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, and Cole Porter became household names as a result of the powerful music and lyrics written for the Broadway stage.

The reason for its longevity lies in its personal nature: audience to actors. Only live performances permit this powerful, personal interaction to take place. As a tribute to longevity, “the Phantom of the Opera” still runs on Broadway, just as it did when it first enthralled its audiences in 1988. The mainstay of the Broadway stage remains the musical production. Musicals bring the story alive through song, dance, dialogue and acting, interacting with the audience. Broadway came into being sometime near the 1860’s, as America emerged as a central player in economics and culture.

During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, New York enjoyed one of the largest populations in the nation, accessible by rail travel and through canals. As a result of this accessibility and size, New York offered a diverse population and a broad range of skills, many of which were talents in theatrics. The theatre district originated in 1900 on 13th Street, in the Star Theater, and extended to 45th Street. Before the United States entered the war in 1917, Broadway had little to do with real life events and contemporary issues.

With the war, audiences wanted to be removed from the unpleasant realities of combat, and sought relief in the theaters of New York. As the war came to a close, celebrants joined in Times Square. This early gathering became the basis for a custom which continues today: meeting in Times Square during times of celebration. The energy which symbolized the “roaring twenties” was transferred to the theater stage, and productions increased from 126 in 1917 to 264 in 1928. With the 1940’s, stage productions appeared to be in a slow death spiral.

Television was gaining popularity, and the theaters had difficulty recovering from the economic losses it had suffered as a result of the depression and then the war. What was once the Broadway district, filled with theaters, became an area of empty buildings; the bright lights were now not just dim, they were out, completely. In 1969 to 1970, there were only 62 productions in New York. The rebirth of Broadway began as a travel destination for those seeking a weekend get-away.

Despite the negative effects, many great shows were produced during this somewhat bleak period: West Side Story, The Music Man, and My Fair Lady. The Broadway of today and its productions have changed. A rise in the “spectacle” type of production hasn’t paid off the way producers would have liked. As a result, smaller, shorter productions, oftentimes without an intermission, have moved into the theater. Yet another addition is the play and or musical based upon popular film successes such as the revival of Moulin Rouge, Cat in the Hat, Dreamgirls, and Chicago, for example.

Producers are more highly concerned with the ultimate profits resulting from a hit, than from the intrinsic benefits or message which a play or musical may bring to the audience. In the modern theater, individual producers have lost their positions to the new domineers of Broadway: the corporate world. With productions running over $10 million dollars and no guarantee for a return on that investment, most productions show a healthy list of investors. Broadway endures because it offers something for everyone.

It endures because it brings joy into the lives of the thousands of individuals who travel to the Big Apple to spend one magical evening in the company of performers, musicians and audiences. It endures because there’s no other place like Broadway in the entire world. It endures because the heart of New York lives in the fabric of the massive curtains; it endures because the heart of New York beats in the heart of the actors and individuals involved in production. It endures because it stimulates the hearts of all who visit to join with it and to share its life. This, is Broadway.

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