When is Broadway’s birthday?

I had a bday over the weekend, and it got me thinking . . . just when is Broadway’s birthday?

My History of American Musical Theatre Professor at NYU, Jack Lee (the guy who gave me my start by recommending me for a production assistant position on My Fair Lady), would say that the birth of the Broadway musical was on September 12, 1866 when the curtain went up on the infamous, designed-by-fire, Black Crook.
This WikiAnswer says that the “first-known professional musical production was a five performance run of John Gay’s satirical British ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera, offered by Walter Murray and Thomas Kean’s traveling theatrical troupe at the Nassau Street Theatre.”
We celebrate a lot of Birthdays through the year.  Broadway should be one of them. As an industry we should pick a day and build a celebration around it. And hey, it doesn’t even have to be accurate. The Declaration of Independence is widely believed to have been officially executed in early August, not on July 4, 1776.  And most people, whether they believe in Him or not, acknowledge that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th.
Birthdays are marketing tools.  Think about yours for a second. What does your birthday do?  It makes people, by societal convention, turn their attention and their focus to you, right?
Let’s use society’s natural desire to celebrate a birth to our advantage.  Because Broadway could use every extra bit of attention it can get.
 

“The end of Broadway . . . blah, blah, blah.”

The NY Times review of the strangely suspenseful Legally Blonde reality show ended with this old chestnut . . .

. . . I’ll still be watching, even if a victory by either one takes us another step closer to the end of Broadway as we know it.

Really?  That’s the conclusion?  That old hackneyed “end of Broadway” whine that is usually saved for closing time at Marie’s Crisis?

Despite what I think of the NY Times as an advertising vehicle, I still think their articles are well written and edited, which is why I was shocked to see this cliche slip through the editorial cracks.

Here’s my issue with it . . .

The review seems to be preaching about the commercialization of Broadway musicals, as if the medium is too sacred a cow to exploit in this manner.  This isn’t the first time members of the press and many others have made this argument over reality shows, star casting, discount promotions and more.

My point is not whether it’s too commercial or not too commercial, or whether reality shows have a place for the theater or not.  We’ll save that for another blog.

My point is that . . . is the New York Times really surprised that the Broadway musical looks for commercial opportunities?

Look at the roots of the American musical.  The first musical was born by accident, because a ballet company was ousted from their venue by fire and shoe-horned into another show down the block.  Vaudeville, minstrel shows, burlesque, etc. were all the precursors of the American Musical, and you can’t get any more commercial than the magicians, animal acts, acrobats, etc. that made up those acts (I’d bet your yankee-doodle-dandy that George M. Cohan would have done a reality show).

The commercialism of Broadway isn’t the end of Broadway . . . it’s just doing what it has always done.  We shouldn’t be surprised, and we should predict the end of art form because of it.

Instead, we should be even more proud of the Show Boats and Spring Awakenings that actually manage to get done, challenging the “quo” without alienating the audience.

X