Broadway | Music in New York

Broadway Music

Little did the Dutch know that when they named the wide avenue connecting Brooklyn with ManhattanBreede weg, they were also naming a new musical genre.

"Breede weg" was literally translated into English as "Broad Way". Come the 1920s, it would eventually become the crest of the musical theater industry.

To this day, nothing in the world has been up to the challenge of topping it.

Crescendo at the Great White Way

Broadway

Even back in mid-19th century, when the people of New York weren't exactly prosperous, transportation was a problem to endure only if obligated to and walking the prostitute-laden, pitch dark streets of the city was a hazard few people wanted to face, plays were a favorite form of entertainment in the city.

Burlesque and all it entails -- flimsy garments, songs, dance, improvisation and kinky double entendres -- had been discovered in New York in the 1860's and the audience just couldn't get enough of it. So they left busy downtown and went to what is now midtown.

Theater owners perfected their marketing savvy (they realized that putting light bulbs on the facades they could attract a bigger potential audience and since white bulbs were the cheapest option, Broadway was soon known as "The Great White Way"), composers and playwrights perfected the art of writing of musical theater (not only did the plays gradually started including an actual plot, the songwriters created what popular music expert Donald Clarke has defined as "the golden era of songwriting") and, about 100 years later, musical theater was one of the most profitable (and the most American) industry thanks to the success of Broadway.

Tapping Your Feet at the Top of Your Lungs

Broadway, however, doesn't have a unique sound. Some people associate the larger-than-life posters in Times Square and the names in bright bulbs with the jazzy sounds of Jerry Herrman (Hello Dolly), Jerome Kern (Chicago) or George Gershwin (Porgy and Bess).

But that would not do justice to some of America's favorite show tunes, like the rough, edgy sound of Rent, the clean-cut ballads of The Lion King, the complexity Stephen Sondheim's work and the free-styling wit of Jason Robert Brown. Rather, Broadway is an idea, an approach to the value of music and lyrics.

Broadway

Openly emotional, precisely worded and ear-friendly, the songs that emerged from Broadway shows today conform the great American songbook (even the semi-official patriotic tune "God Bless America", by Irving Berlin, was written with a show in mind).

This is why it's always interesting to check what shows are being performed on Broadway. Even if it is only to see what revivals of classic shows are there at the moment. They may not show a fair representation of how the musical theater has evolved in recent years, but it's the safest way to get a glimpse of how the theater-going experience was in "the golden era of songwriting" and what type of music is created for the only musical genre that was born, bred and raised exclusively in New York.