The lights of Broadway have always beckoned, but something's been missing. Julie Boardman, a co-producer on nine Broadway shows, said, "There's never been a permanent space that you could go to in Times Square to experience and learn about the history of Broadway."
So she and her college pal, Diane Nicoletti, who works in brand marketing, are creating the Museum of Broadway.
Nicoletti said, "We want it to be inspiring to guests. We want it to be fun, and we want to provide an education as well."
Historian Ben West told correspondent Rita Braver, "The Broadway that we think of now essentially began in the late 1800s-early 1900s."
West has created a Broadway timeline, with hundreds of images: Gene Kelly in "Pal Joey," Ethel Merman in "Gypsy," Ben Vereen in "Pippin."
"Broadway is our history," said West. "Broadway is integral to American culture, to American life. And the history of Broadway is the history of a people. It's the history of a country."
The exhibit includes the landmark musical "Show Boat," which opened in December 1927. West said the show represents "the maturity of the American musical and where it's going, dealing with serious issues, contemporary themes."
The museum features items like Jennifer Hudson's costume from "The Color Purple," the little red dress from "Annie," a mask from "The Lion King," a pair of "Kinky Boots," and much more.
Now 90. Joel Grey is a Broadway legend, famous for creating roles like the Emcee in "Cabaret," which the museum features as a Broadway game-changer. Set in Berlin as the Nazis were coming to power, it was a musical that dared to explore dark themes.
Grey said he was hooked when he first heard the composers play the score:
"And I sat there, and I heard John Kander play, Mm-bup-bup-mm-bup-bup-mm-bup-bup-bup-mm-bup. And I heard Fred Ebb sing, 'Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome…' And I thought to myself, 'Oh my God, that's gonna to be my song.'"
Joel Grey performs "Willkommen" at the 1967 Tony Awards:
But on opening night in 1966? "The audience was frightened!" Grey recalled. "Act one came to a close and there was silence."
"No applause?" asked Braver.
"No. And everybody went out and didn't know whether to applaud or not. They were just stunned."
Yet, "Cabaret" became a huge hit, winning eight Tonys, including one for Grey. He also earned an Oscar for the 1972 movie version.
The founders of this museum, backed by a slew of investors, are hoping that visitors will be willing to spend around $50 a ticket to learn the stories of Broadway.
Braver asked, "How much is all this costing? Give me a ballpark figure?"
Boardman and Nicoletti laughed: "Millions and millions and millions!"
All to showcase one of America's great art forms. As Grey said, "There's nothing like it. The theater is historical. It's a … (sings) tradition!"
For more info:
- Museum of Broadway opens November 15
- Musical theater historian Ben West
- Follow Joel Grey (@joelgnyc) on Instagram
Story produced by Robert Marston. Editor: David Bhagat.
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