Inside the Museum of Broadway’s “Making of a Broadway Show” Exhibit
“Making of an Broadway Show” is the final stop in the newly opened Museum of Broadway ,. However, its contents and design are crucial to understanding the intricate and complex human realities and possibilities behind all floors above.
“You go to a show, see this performance, and it is so many people’s blood sweat and tears. Sometimes it takes several years for a show even to reach Broadway. This was not something that I had in my mind growing up. Julie Boardman, a Tony-winning producer and museum cofounder, explains how she was inspired to create the exhibit. This exhibit opens up the world to you. This stage door allows you to learn about the different jobs of these people. You see how a show starts from a blank page.
It’s an effort, according to longtime friends Boardman and fellow co-founder Diane Nicoletti (who has got two decades of experience producing brand activations and fan experiences for the likes of the Super Bowl, Comic-Con and SXSW), that will hopefully inform and inspire those interested in theater to consider paths frequently less visible.
“We have interviewed over 130 people who work on Broadway in the trenches,” Boardman explains of the museum’s bottom floor experience, which was “built from within the community” and involves over 300 contributors. “You learn about their lives and how they got started — what inspired them — and some words of advice for those looking to enter the field
Part of the larger four-story, 26,000-square-foot self-guided museum at 145 W. 45th St. (aptly in the midst of Time Square and next door to the oldest continuously operating theater, the Lyceum), the “Making of a Broadway Show” exhibit is a tribute to every on and offstage element of the creative machine behind a Great White Way production.
Dedicated sections for dramaturgy, directing, choreography, costuming and makeup, music, scenic design, props, lighting projection and sound, stagehands and stage management showcase the real work that has brought plays and musicals to life for decades across Broadway stages in everything from Hadestown to Hairspray.
There are also stops for theatrical photographers like Joan Marcus who have been documenting productions for decades. Visitors can interact with elements of production, including ladders, lightboards, and casting calls. This includes a walkway that takes you from the backstage to the stage, where you can view the various Broadway theaters.
Museum guests can also hear directly about people who have worked in each stage of the production experience. Contributions include writer Lynn Nottage and actresses Ali Stroker and Chita Rivera, multihyphenate Lin Manuel Miranda, Linda Cho, costume designer Linda Cho and Peter Nigrini, as well as Jerry Mitchell, director and choreographer.
Not just audio and video. The exhibit’s final stop is “The Lifecycle Of a Broadway Show” wall. This wall features the written word of members of the Broadway community explaining how a show goes from its initial stages of writing to its final stage.
Boardman and Nicoletti envisioned the classic dressing room mirror, the rehearsal room dance bars, and the writer’s seat. They also turned to Rockwell Group founder David Rockwell, a Tony-winning scenic designer as well as an award-winning architect. The trio, according to Boardman and Nicoletti, had been working together since the museum’s early conception, which dates back to 2017.
“David has a unique talent as an architect as well a Broadway designer. So he was someone we went to early, even just to pitch the idea of the museum,” Nicoletti said. “He loved the idea of highlighting all the backstage talent, because he is part that community .
The Rockwell team, including Daniel Marino, Andrew Lazarow and Eda Yetim, Furqan Jawed and Furqan Jawed, Alex Huffman, and Antonio Harris, along with Faye Armon–Troncoso (decorator and props supervisor), Karl Sonnenberg, associate editor, and video director Nolan Doran, helped to shape the space and how visitors will navigate it.
Like much of Rockwell’s work, “The Making of a Broadway Show” is inspired by his childhood. He grew up with a choreographer mother who started small community theaters in “private, separate U.S. suburbanities” before moving his family to Mexico. Rockwell says that his interest in “how space creates real-time community” only grew.
“My interest in storytelling and my real interest in design is how it can connect people, both the people making and receiving it, in the cases of theaters, in restaurants, hotels and airports,” Rockwell, who started his career as an architect before getting into stage design in the late ’80s, shares. “And I have an outsider’s appreciation of how amazing the [theater] world can be and now an insider’s view of how it gets made.”
This duality is likely the reason why the exhibit, which was designed and built by architect and designer, is so dynamic. The space is entered via a set of stairs. Visitors are then “surrounded by the world” of posters and artwork, a space Rockwell describes as reminiscing about the Great Wall at Shubert Alley. The exhibit designer wanted it to feel like a backstage.
He says that there is one aspect of being backstage in your job — exhibit and design — that completely overlaps. “When you’re behindstage, you can’t believe the amount of choreography that’s being done backstage. In some cases, it’s more interesting than what’s happening in front. We’re seeing all these moves and shifts.”
Rockwell created movement in the artificial backstage due to the exhibit’s size. He explains that when I first started as an architect in New York, most spaces I was able to work on were upstairs and downstairs. This is because people could afford to have a restaurant or a club there. “Working in backstage spaces makes you realize how important it can be to be able move things and move people. We have the same graphics on our floor that are stage notations. They help guide people. We use many of the same devices backstage to encourage people to see things in the right order.
You can navigate your way through the technical elements of backstage, such as the call board, and the early stages of production (think script writing) before you reach the actual stage. Rockwell’s design takes a unique navigational turn at this point. After taking a photo of the famous ghost light, guests are taken to another behind-the scenes look that shows the production tools, marketing designs, and other departments involved in the creation of the stage.
“In one area that is dedicated to dramatists we have handwritten notes from people in their process, figuring what ends up becoming the song/words. Boardman says that a chair is made from these amazing lyric sketches. “There’s a moment from Beetlejuice where you get to see how the production works to transform this one moment in the show. You can also see the handcrafting, beading, and construction of the models .”
For Rockwell, it’s moments captured within tributes to Robin Wagner’s model for Dream Girls, the light plots of A Chorus Line or the handwritten notes and mark-up sketches from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and A Street Car Named Desire, that offer some of the exhibit’s most special moments.
“You can take a photo of yourself looking into a house. It’s a projection of the inside. Joe Forbes painted the borders overhead. If you look up, you can see the steps he uses for creating a beautiful drop. Rockwell says that the one closest to you is very detailed. If you move upstage, it breaks down a process.” Rockwell says that he has painted many beautiful backdrops but no one asked him to paint his .”
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.