It is synonymous with New York City. Broadway is an avenue, originally an Indian Trail,long before it was paved, repaved, and renown. But when you say Broadway to most people in America, or for that matter, the world, they don’t think of a street. They think of the theater. Even though the actual street is miles long, most are concerned with a few square blocks that it borders, for that is the Theatre District in Manhattan. New York is made up of neighborhoods, boroughs and districts; there is the Financial District downtown, the Flower District in the twenties on the west side, the Clothing District a little north of that, the Diamond District also downtown, the Toy District on twenty third, and then there is the most famous of them all – the Theatre District. It is easy to see why it is known the world over. The other districts are known only to those that toil in the particular industry they cover; but the theater district is show business, and the world loves show business.
There are theaters all over the city; off Broadway they are called, and they offer some superlative productions, but rare is the tourist that on their visit to the city will say they want to see a show on Lafayette Street or the East Village. They want to see a Broadway production with all that those words conjure up. Usually they want to see a musical, still the higher grossing productions on the Great White Way. And again no wonder; they have full orchestras, huge production numbers, elaborate costumes and catchy tunes to remember. Me, I always preferred the dramas; stark and serious, sometimes Shakespeare, mostly Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill. It had it all in the Sixties, for every taste: Carol Channing in Hello Dolly, Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun, Julie Andrews in Camelot. And for me, Lee J. Cobb in Death of a Salesman, Jason Robards in A Moon for the Misbegotten, not too mention when Neil Simon came onto the scene with a string of hits from The Odd Couple to Barefoot in the Park; and also not to mention the influence of the times in such shows as Hair, and Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.
You get the idea. It was an amazing time for a theatre lover.
You basically couldn’t go wrong with any ticket you happen to purchase; if it was on
Broadway, it was worthy. This wasn’t any experimental existential bullshit; these were perfectly choreographed, plotted, and executed productions not to be equaled anywhere on the planet except of course for London’s West End (they had a head start after all).
I would go a lot because then if you went on a Wednesday to the matinee, tickets were less than half price. The cast was the same so you were seeing the same actors they folks that came on Friday night saw except you weren’t paying full boat. And of course one of the most fun things was when you got to see a star you loved from television or the movies up on stage in person; the same person you watched religiously every week on NBC or CBS was right there in front of you. Or the movie star you never imagined you would be within twenty yards of, was right there just a few feet away (if you were smart about your seat purchase anyway).
I saw some amazing people, and some wonderful productions but one stands out. It was a play called Sleuth, a murder mystery psychological drama which starred Patrick MacNee, John Steed on one of my favorite television shows, The Avengers. Besides the fact that Anthony Schaffer had written a Tony Award winning plot, and it was such a hit that the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine were enlisted for the film version, besides all that, I was in the same room with John Steed. Heavy stuff let me tell you.
I must have seen that production four times, going with different members of my family each time. I don’t know why I didn’t insist on waiting at the stage door at the end of a show, but I am sure it was because whatever grown up I was with wanted to beat the rush and get back on the subway. A regret for sure. I wrote Mr.MacNee in care of the theater and received a wonderful black and white photo signed by him that I treasure still.
It was a good time to be alive, living in New York City, and enjoying what was
something totally unique to its place and time. Now of course no matter what city you live in or near, there is a playhouse with a production “Straight from Broadway”, and they are all generally quite good.
But I will tell you honestly, there are many “Broadway Productions” out there, but
nothing takes the place of seeing a play in the Theatre District of Manhattan. You walk amongst mighty ghosts of the stage past and discover new gems every year, and the atmosphere on the streets can be as exciting and colorful as the production inside the theatre. No place like it.
Give my regards.