The Nature of the Beast
Somehow, everybody seems to think that Broadway used to be really smart, and today, for some reason, they think that Broadway is really stupid. Wait a minute!
—Thomas Schumacher, Disney Theatrical
There are not a lot of risk takers left. That's the sad part.
—Scott Zeiger, CEO, Clear Channel Entertainment Theatrical Group, North America
The biggest marquee on Forty-second Street heralds not the delights of The Lion King or another blockbuster musical but the more prosaic wares of that ubiquitous outpost of the American culinary landscape, McDonald's. The presence of a fast-food chain on a prime strip of New York real estate is not unusual, but that its supersized theatrical calling card outstrips that of any legitimate theatre on the street speaks volumes about the Broadway district today. The changes to the area, the result of years of internecine struggles within city and state government and local business interest groups, bear scrutiny to discern the current zeitgeist and the possible future of Broadway.
The heart of the theatre district lies roughly between Sixth and Eighth Avenues, and Forty-second and Fifty-second Streets, with Lincoln Center another half-mile uptown in the West Sixties. The very terms theatre district, Broadway, Times Square, and Forty-second Street are often used to denote the same place, but subtle differences exist. Times Square, for example—originally Longacre Square—is often applied to the entire district but actually refers to the area immediately north of Forty-second Street where Broadway and Seventh Avenue intersect. The entire neighborhood, however, has been associated with entertainment for the better part of the twentieth century and has long enjoyed iconic status as the avatar of popular, live performance, as well as sundry other easily consumable cultural offerings.
Most of the extant theatres date to the first few decades of the twentieth century, with a preponderance of the houses built before the Depression. While many theatres either were razed to give way to more lucrative