My artifact is Howard Thain’s “The Great White Way,” a 1925 painting depicting an evening in Times Square. The New Amsterdam Theater is an edifice of major importance in studying the history of the early Broadway musical. Though not visible in the painting, the New Amsterdam is located just behind One Times Square, the focal point of the piece. Built in 1903, the theater was home to the famed Ziegfeld Follies from 1913 to 1920 and again from 1922 to 1927 in the beginning of the heyday of the modern musical. The theater was owned by Klaw and Erlanger, two members of the “Theatrical Syndicate” booking agency. Their main competition in the business was the Shubert Brothers, a highly successful theater-management team of three immigrant brothers from Poland.
The theater industry suffered major financial losses during the Great Depression, and the New Amsterdam Theater closed in 1936 and became a movie theater. In 1993, Disney Theatrical Productions took over the theater and, four years later, opened The Lion King in the New Amsterdam. The Lion King has since moved to the Minskoff Theater, and Mary Poppins opened in the New Amsterdam in 2006. This majestic theater has also hosted Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS charity gala events, including one in which a former Ziegfeld girl, Doris Eaton Travis, was honored in the very theater in which she had performed decades earlier. Stayed tuned for more information on Broadway’s fascinating history!
– Lily Shoretz