On Broadway: Art and Commerce on the Great White Way

By Steven Adler | Go to book overview
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They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway,

They say there's always magic in the air.

—Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller, “On Broadway, as sung by the Drifters

The lights of Broadway, neon and otherwise, are brighter than ever. The renovation of the theatre district in the 1990s resulted in an extravagant nightly advertising barrage, an overwhelming sensory assault. The magic in the air is palpably different, too, occasioned by the arrival of both corporate and not-for-profit producing organizations, escalating costs, changing audience demographics and theatrical tastes, and the competitive muscularity of Off-Broadway and regional theatres.

It is tempting, when writing about the state of Broadway, to decry the commercialization of the district and the work seen on its stages. But historically, Broadway has been primarily a commercial enterprise, demonstrating for decades that the profit motive could support vibrant artistic expression. Broadway today, rather, must be examined in light of numerous artistic and economic currents that have changed greatly the way in which professional theatre in America is conceived, produced, marketed, and presented. Broadway, once the prime generator of American theatre, is now just one element—albeit a critical one—in the theatrical equation.

I began research for this project with an enthusiasm that stemmed from a potent desire to return to my roots. Growing up in Brooklyn, I romantically viewed Broadway as the pinnacle of theatrical achievement. When I began my theatre studies in college, however, I was exposed to the radically different world of experimental theatre. I soon adopted the prevailing attitude that scorned Broadway as an anachronistic, creaking memento ; the exciting work was to be found elsewhere in New York and around the country. In many ways, that disdain was more than just hip snobbery; Broadway in the early seventies was stuck in amber. Except for a handful of daring new works and imports from England, Broadway was decidedly out of step with the cultural wildfire that had swept across the


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