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The Museum of Broadway reveals the show behind the show

A new museum celebrating the history of Broadway is now in New York's theater district.

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The Wiz is just one of the shows celebrated in the new Museum of Broadway.
The Wiz is just one of the shows celebrated in the new Museum of Broadway. Monique Carboni | Museum of Broadway

A few years ago, Tony Award-winning producer Julie Boardman and Diane Nicoletti, who's created fan experiences for Game of Thrones and Marvel, were chatting at an event. Boardman said that one of her investors asked why there wasn't a Broadway museum.

"I just stopped in my tracks," Nicoletti said. "I was like, 'You're right. Why isn't there one? That's brilliant!' Like, let's get on this!"

And so, they did. The pair got in touch with theatrical producers, organizations and theater owners to sponsor the for-profit museum. And after the pandemic hit, they took a lease on a closed Irish pub right off Times Square and filled three floors with exhibits, some interactive.

Now, after years of work, The Museum of Broadway is open, and it's located just off Times Square and right next to the Lyceum Theater.

The Museum of Broadway is in the theater district, right off of Times Square.
The Museum of Broadway is in the theater district, right off of Times Square. Monique Carboni | The Museum of Broadway

"We are a museum. We're also an attraction," said Nicoletti. She said, it's supposed to be fun. "You know, they still see the artifacts and they get a great education. But it's really something that they're going to be really excited about, I hope."

The museum itself has three parts: The Map Room, where there's a short film that outlines the history of New York theater and a map of where each current theater is located, a Broadway timeline that stretches throughout most of the exhibit, and a special section called the Making of a Broadway Show.

The timeline walls educate visitors about the history of theater in New York.
The timeline walls educate visitors about the history of theater in New York. Monique Carboni | The Museum of Broadway

The Broadway timeline itself is two floors filled with pictures and artifacts –costumes, props, documents – illustrating the history of New York theater from minstrelsy and vaudeville up to the present day.

There are special rooms dedicated to Broadway shows. The glitzy Ziegfeld Follies room is wallpapered with pink feathers and has a small vanity and mirror and a case with show swag, like small wooden "applause hammers." To one side are actual costumes from the early 20th century with feathered headdresses and such wide panniers it's surprising they could squeeze through small backstage spaces.

The Ziegfeld Follies room is wallpapered with pink feathers.
The Ziegfeld Follies room is wallpapered with pink feathers. Monique Carboni | The Museum of Broadway

Many of the exhibits have been created by Broadway set designers.

In one room, the (fake) corn is "as high as a elephant's eye."

It is, of course, the Oklahoma! room.

"The corn is quite high," said resident historian and timeline walls curator, Ben West, laughing, as he gave a tour.

As "Oh What A Beautiful Mornin'" plays in the background, visitors brush past that corn and examine what looks like a barn wall, where they can see pictures posted from the original 1943 production, as well as replicas of Richard Rodgers music manuscripts and Oscar Hammerstein's lyric sketches. Oklahoma! was not the first to integrate music, song, story and dance but, West said, it "really represents an excellence in how they are all woven together to tell a single theatrical story."

There are lots of imaginative stops along the timeline – a room dedicated to West Side Story, designed to look like the drug store where the Jets hang out, and a "rooftop" where you can dance along with a video of the original choreography; a room dedicated to Hair, where you can look at groovy original costumes from 1968 and a Broadway revival and sit on a swing, listening to the songs (or taking a selfie for Instagram). Costumes are displayed from A Chorus Line amid sparkling, mirrored panels.

The museum has many Instagrammable settings, like this one celebrating Hair.
The museum has many Instagrammable settings, like this one celebrating Hair. Monique Carboni | The Museum of Broadway

One somber room displays a Broadway section of the AIDS quilt and on the walls, names artists lost to the epidemic, including Michael Bennett, who directed A Chorus Line.

Curator Ben West said the museum will be continually updated – for instance, one exhibit of current costumes has a mannequin with a sign, but no clothes. "Hugh Jackman is currently naked," he said, laughing. "That will sell tickets!"

The final stop on the tour is "The Making of a Broadway Show," created by set designer and architect David Rockwell.

The exhibit is an immersive dive into the backstage of every Broadway show – from a stage manager's desk to a room dedicated to writers, to areas explaining costume and set design. In one of the museum's Instagram-able scenes, visitors can get their picture taken on a "stage," with large videos making it seem like the auditorium is in the background. And there are videos with hundreds of theater makers describing their craft.

"You know, I think a lot of people come to Broadway, want to see the show and they get inspired," said Dan Marino, one of the exhibit's designers. "But there's such a show behind the show that's going on."

At the end of the exhibit, there's a link to a website with information about careers on Broadway. Although it's not quite the end.

"Because there's a gift shop," West said. And what would a visit to Broadway be, without merch?

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The gift shop at The Museum of Broadway.
The gift shop at The Museum of Broadway. Monique Carboni | The Museum of Broadway

Transcript :

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Museum of Broadway opened this week in Times Square. People can learn about the history of Broadway and what goes into creating a Broadway show. I think they got an exhibit on B.J. Leiderman, who does our theme music. Reporter Jeff Lunden got a preview.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: The Museum of Broadway is the brainchild of Tony Award-winning producer Julie Boardman and Diane Nicoletti, who's created many fan experiences. The longtime friends were chatting a few years ago, says Nicoletti.

DIANE NICOLETTI: And so she was like, you know, one of my investors asked me one day, like, why is there not a Broadway museum? And, like, I just stopped in my tracks. And I was like, you're right. Why isn't there one? That's brilliant. Like, let's get on this.

LUNDEN: And so they did. After the pandemic hit, they took a lease on a closed Irish pub right off Times Square and filled three floors with exhibits, some interactive.

NICOLETTI: We are a museum. We're also an attraction.

LUNDEN: And so, as Oscar Hammerstein wrote, let's start at the very beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Welcome to the Museum of Broadway.

LUNDEN: I entered a room with oversized Playbills on the wall and QR codes in case you want to buy tickets. A film about the history of Broadway noted that the theater district started way downtown near Wall Street.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The city's first documented performance in 1732...

LUNDEN: The exhibits start with a Broadway timeline - two floors filled with lots of pictures and artifacts illustrating the history from minstrelsy and vaudeville up to the present day. There are special rooms dedicated to Broadway shows, like the glitzy "Ziegfeld Follies," complete with actual costumes from the early 20th century. Many of the exhibits have been created by Broadway set designers. I walked into one room which had corn as high as a elephant's eye.

BEN WEST: The corn is quite high. So we enter the "Oklahoma!" room.

LUNDEN: That's Ben West, the museum's resident historian.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN'")

GORDON MACRAE: (As Curly McLain, singing) There's a bright, golden haze on the meadow...

LUNDEN: On the side of a wall designed to look like a barn, you can see pictures of the original 1943 production as well as replicas of Richard Rodgers' music manuscripts and Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics for this groundbreaking show, which integrated song, story and dance.

WEST: It is "Oklahoma!" in particular that really represents an excellence in how they are all woven together to tell a single theatrical story.

LUNDEN: There are rooms dedicated to such important Broadway shows as "West Side Story," "A Chorus Line," "Rent." Curator Ben West says the museum will be continually updated. For instance, one exhibit of current costumes has a mannequin with a sign but no clothes.

WEST: Hugh Jackman is currently naked (laughter). That will sell tickets.

(LAUGHTER)

LUNDEN: West walked me to the final exhibit, "The Making Of A Broadway Show."

WEST: So we will knock on the stage door, open the stage door, and descend into a wonderful world created by David Rockwell and company.

LUNDEN: The exhibit is an immersive dive into the backstage of every Broadway show from a stage manager's desk to a room dedicated to writers, to costume and set design areas. In one of the museum's Instagrammable scenes, you can get your picture taken on a stage with the auditorium in the background. And there are videos with hundreds of theater-makers. At the end of the exhibit, there's a link to a website with information about careers on Broadway. But curator Ben West adds...

WEST: Well, not quite the end because there's a gift shop.

LUNDEN: The Museum of Broadway is officially open now and forever, its founders hope, like the old ad for "Cats." For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.