Broadway or Off-Broadway?

Ever wonder what reviewers, critics and promoters mean when you hear the terms “Broadway” and “Off-Broadway” being bandied about in regard to your favorite theatrical productions? Well, Broadway is a main thoroughfare that cuts diagonally from the northwest to southeast of Manhattan island completely messing up the grid pattern of streets on the island, but creating large open spaces for places such as Madison Square, Herald Square, and Times Square. But are all the shows that are considered Broadway on this particular street? Let’s take a closer look.

According to Playbill Online Most “Broadway” theatres are located on side streets near Broadway in midtown Manhattan including West 41st Street through West 52nd Street between Avenue of the Americas and Ninth Avenue. The one exception is the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, near West 65th Street. The nickname “Broadway” was originally given at the turn of the 20th century when most theaters were located on the actual street called “Broadway.” Today there are only four “Broadway” theatres that are actually on Broadway: the Winter Garden, the Roundabout, the Marquis, and the eponymous Broadway Theatre. The term “Broadway” today also gives a sense that the show and theater are larger and tend to be more well known, or at least, hopefully, more successful.

Off-Broadway indicates that the theater is outside of the main area of Broadway, and instead is usually in areas such as Greenwich Village, the upper West Side, and, to a lesser degree, the East Side. The general term “Off-Broadway” also means that the scale of the production, as well as the size of the theater, tend to be smaller and attract less attention. Although this does not mean the show will be “less” – consider Rent as an example of an Off Broadway show that made it big!  When shows are considered appealing to a larger crowd at some of the smaller Off-Broadway locations, they may switch classifications to be newly considered as “making their Broadway debut.”

So the terminology theater buffs use when talking about Broadway vs Off-Broadway refers to, not only the physical location of, but also the size and appeal of a show. I hope this helps you in your quest to understand all things theater related. Check back next month as we look at more terms and fun shows debuting this fall and winter!


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