Majestic Theatre

The World's Most Famous Theater District

Broadway, located in the Times Square area, is the world's most famous theater district with a total of 41 theaters. This neighborhood begin its historic journey to becoming the city's theater district with the construction of the Empire Theater (by producer Charles Frohman in 1893) and the Olympia Theater (by Oscar Hammerstein I in 1895). The opening of the city's subway system in 1904 brought a boom in construction and several new theaters were built that year including the Lyceum Theater the oldest theatre in “continuous use in New York City.” The Lyceum's first theater manager, Daniel Frohman, was married to actress Margaret Illington and lived in an apartment overlooking the theater’s stage. Through a peephole window in his apartment, legend has it that Frohman would wave his handkerchief at his wife if he thought she were overacting.

The Broadway of New Amsterdam had been a muddy passageway for city's livestock. But, as early as 1823, Broadway (or Breede weg in Dutch) was lit by gas lamps and one visitor in 1825 described a gaslight in the shape of a harp. Electric lamps were introduced in 1879, but even in 1913, there were still a few gas lamps on the street. Broadway became an illuminating night time spectacle known as "The Great White Way. Producer Oscar B. Hammerstein I had been the first to flood the exterior of his theater with electric lights, which started a trend. In recent years, large neon billboards, signs and videos have replaced electric lights"

Long before Europeans arrived, Broadway was a Wickquasgeck indian trail. The trail ran north through forests and strawberry fields to hunting and fishing areas along the East River. Broadway, the street, is the only city street that runs the full length of Manhattan from downtown Bowling Green to upstate New York and Albany where it eventually ends at Champlain, N. Y. and the Canadian border.

Theater historians disagree about which theatre was New York City's first. Some say it was a wooden theater on downtown Broadway, called the John Street Theater, where amateur traveling theatrical groups performed as early as the 1730s. Others name a theatre on Nassau Street, built in 1732, and run by actors-managers Thomas Kean and Walter Murray. The Park Theater on Park Row opened in 1798 (at the location of today's City Hall), and was the first American building to be specifically designed as a theater. In the mid-1800's, a white actor, Thomas R. Rice, became very popular performing a character named Jim Crow in minster shows in blackface at the American Theater on Bowery Street.

Broadway theaters have been named to honor theater legends such as:

In 1888, American playwright, Eugene O'Neill, was born at the Barrett House Hotel in this neighborhood. News reporter, Damon Runyon (Guys and Dolls), requested that his ashes be scattered over Broadway upon his death and his wishes were followed. Photographer Edwin Townsend photographed Broadway stars and dancers in his studio in the 1920.

The Majestic Theatre, pictured above, has seen the openings of a number of beloved classic American musicals: Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The Music Man (1957), Camelot (1960), and many others. The Phantom of the Opera, Broadway's longest running musical, has been playing at the Majestic since 1986.

Every year Broadway celebrates its best with the Tony Awards, which are presented by the American Theatre Wing. Mel Brook's musical, The Producers, won a total of 12 Tony Awards the most to date. Lin Manual Miranda's Hamilton is a close second with 11 Tony Awards.

To get a history of Broadway theater, visit the recently opened Museum of Broadway in Times Square (at W. 45th Street).