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11 Fun Facts About Broadway, Then and Now

Broadway theatre is one of New York City’s biggest attractions, drawing in millions of visitors from around the world. But how much do you know about it? Here are some fun facts. Fun Facts About Broadway 1. Broadway Theaters are mostly not on Broadway There are 40 Broadway theaters, but only 4 are actually on Broadway. Of the rest, 35 are in the Theater District, in the area bounded 6th Avenue, 9th Avenue, West 41st Street, and West 53rd Street. The one exception is the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, all the way up in the West Sixties.

2. … but Broadway is where it all started Broadway theaters were mostly downtown in the 19th century, but by 1900 they were starting to cluster on Broadway near what became Times Square. Following the lead of Oscar Hammerstein’s Victoria Theater, theaters on Broadway—there were as many as 16—advertised themselves with brilliant electric lighting. Back then, Broadway was known as the Great White Way.

3. Seating capacity makes a Broadway theater A Broadway theater doesn’t have to be on Broadway, but it does have to seat at least 500 people. An Off-Broadway theater seats between 100 and 499.

4. There’s No ‘I’ in theater There is no row ‘I’ in most Broadway theaters. This is to avoid disappointing people who might have thought they were sitting in row 1.

5. Broadway Plays Have Been Controversial Over the Years There have been some controversial moments in the history of Broadway. Performances of counterculture classic Hair in the late 60s set off protests about the show’s explicit themes and whole-cast nudity. More recently, The Book of Mormon, by the creators of South Park, has caused controversy for its highly irreverent take on religion. But not many plays can beat Sex by Mae West, which opened in 1926 and was shut down in the middle of the performance by a police raid. The police said the play was obscene and arrested the entire cast. Mae West spent 10 days in jail and went on to a very successful Hollywood career.

6. Plays Can Run for a Long, Long Time… A Broadway will run as long as people keep seeing it—and investors are satisfied. The longest running Broadway show in history is Phantom of the Opera, the classic love story about the Phantom lurking beneath the Paris Opera House. Opening in 1988, Phantom has been staged over 11,400 times over 27 years. It’s still running. The next longest-running Broadway show is Chicago, which opened in 1996, is still running, and has been performed over 7,700 times.

7. …and Make a Lot of Money The Lion King, a musical adaptation of the Disney movie, began its run in 1997. Not only is it still running, it’s grossed an incredible $1.09 billion.

8. Tony Awards The theatre equivalent of the Oscars is the Tony Awards. They were first held back in 1947. Originally, they didn’t hand out statues, and the prize was a cigarette lighter (for men) and a compact (for women). Prizes are awarded for both musicals and plays. Tickets to the ceremony cost $7 each. The most highly-awarded musical ever was The Producers, the new Mel Brooks musical (2001) which won 12 Tony awards. It’s one thing to be nominated, and another to win—actress Kelli O’Hara won a Tony in 2015 on her sixth nomination. No actor named Tony has ever won a Tony.

9. Broadway brings in the tourists Tourists are the lifeblood of Broadway. In 2013-2014, 70% of Broadway tickets were bought by tourists. 68% of Broadway audiences are women.

10. You might see a real life showstopper ‘Showstopper’ is now used mostly as a metaphor. Its literal meaning comes from Broadway, where it refers to a musical number that’s so well-received that the audience brings the show to a halt with clapping and cheering.

Bonus Fact: Look out for actors “stage dooring” On Broadway you’re watching the performance live. And that means you can see the stars leave. “To stage door” on Broadway is to wait outside the stage door in the hopes of meeting a performer. On Broadway, it’s often possible to get autographs and photos this way if you make a quick exit from the performance. Just make sure you’re following stage door etiquette. If you’re heading to a Broadway show and you need a ride, don’t hesitate to reserve a car with us.
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