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In comparison to Philadelphia and Charleston, professional theater appeared later in New York. The earliest professional troupe of actors started to appear in New York in the 1730s. The first recorded stage performance – Shakespeare’s Richard III – was held at the Nassau Street Theatre on March 5, 1750 by Walter Murray and Thomas Kean’s traveling troupe of actors. The first known professional musical production was John Gay’s satirical ballad opera – The Beggar’s Opera – again produced by the same traveling troupe of actors at the Nassau Street Theatre on December 3, 1750. The show ran for five performances only.
Around the corner from the Nassau Street Theatre was the John Street Theatre, which opened with a 1707 comedy by George Farquhar – The Beaux’ Strategem – on December 7, 1767. Many expert scholars are of the view that The Archers (or The Mountaineers of Switzerland) - based on the legend of William Tell - was the earliest musical performed at this theater in New York on April 8, 1796.
An anti-Federalist opera called Tammany (or the Indian Chief) premiered in New York on March 3, 1796. However, no copies of the libretto have survived.
The Black Crook is credited with being the first mega hit in the history of Broadway – and it happened accidentally! In 1829, Niblo’s Garden, owned by the impresario William Niblo at Broadway and Prince Street, became one of the popular spots in New York City. The 3000-seat theater had the best-equipped stage in the United States, then. Niblo’s manager William Wheatley created theatrical history by helping out a stranded French ballet company stage its show, The Black Crook on September 12, 1866. This musical ran for a record breaking 474 performances, and opened up the commercial possibilities of theater in America.
Gradually, plays and musicals came to Broadway in the mid 19th century, and by the 1890s and the 1900s, hundreds of musical comedies and plays came to be staged on Broadway. Those early productions were A Trip to Chinatown (1891), Robin Hood (1891), Little Johnny Jones (1904), 45 Minutes from Broadway (1906), and George Washington Jr. (1906), among others.
During the Golden Age of musical theatre on Broadway between 1943 and 1968, great productions - such as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (1943), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), The Sound of Music (1959), Paint Your Wagon (1951), and My Fair Lady (1956) – based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, among others - were produced.
Today the plays and musicals on Broadway are extravagantly produced, and many of them have long runs of a number of years continuously. The Phantom of the Opera, based on Gaston Leroux’s novel by the same name, opened on January 26, 1988 after previewing on January 9, and as of March 11, 2007 has had 7973 performances– making it the longest running show on Broadway!Tickets Broadway Plays
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