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Encore: At The Museum of Broadway, people learn what it takes to make a show

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Museum of Broadway opened this week in Times Square last month. Visitors can learn about the history of Broadway and what goes into creating a Broadway show. Reporter Jeff Lunden got a preview.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: The Museum of Broadway is the brainchild of Tony Award-winning producer Julie Boardman and Diane Nicoletti, who's created many fan experiences. The longtime friends were chatting a few years ago, says Nicoletti.

DIANE NICOLETTI: And so she was like, you know, one of my investors asked me one day, like, why is there not a Broadway museum? And, like, I just stopped in my tracks. And I was like, you're right. Why isn't there one? That's brilliant. Like, let's get on this.

LUNDEN: And so they did. After the pandemic hit, they took a lease on a closed Irish pub right off Times Square and filled three floors with exhibits, some interactive.

NICOLETTI: We are a museum. We're also an attraction.

LUNDEN: And so, as Oscar Hammerstein wrote, let's start at the very beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Welcome to the Museum of Broadway.

LUNDEN: I entered a room with oversized Playbills on the wall and QR codes in case you want to buy tickets. A film about the history of Broadway noted that the theater district started way downtown near Wall Street.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The city's first documented performance in 1732...

LUNDEN: The exhibits start with a Broadway timeline - two floors filled with lots of pictures and artifacts illustrating the history from minstrelsy and vaudeville up to the present day. There are special rooms dedicated to Broadway shows, like the glitzy "Ziegfeld Follies," complete with actual costumes from the early 20th century. Many of the exhibits have been created by Broadway set designers. I walked into one room which had corn as high as a elephant's eye.

BEN WEST: The corn is quite high. So we enter the "Oklahoma!" room.

LUNDEN: That's Ben West, the museum's resident historian.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN'")

GORDON MACRAE: (As Curly McLain, singing) There's a bright, golden haze on the meadow.

LUNDEN: On the side of a wall designed to look like a barn, you can see pictures of the original 1943 production as well as replicas of Richard Rodgers' music manuscripts and Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics for this groundbreaking show, which integrated song, story and dance.

WEST: It is "Oklahoma!" in particular that really represents an excellence in how they are all woven together to tell a single theatrical story.

LUNDEN: There are rooms dedicated to such important Broadway shows as "West Side Story," "A Chorus Line," "Rent." Curator Ben West says the museum will be continually updated. For instance, one exhibit of current costumes has a mannequin with a sign but no clothes.

WEST: Hugh Jackman is currently naked (laughter). That will sell tickets.

(LAUGHTER)

LUNDEN: West walked me to the final exhibit - the making of a Broadway show.

WEST: So we will knock on the stage door, open the stage door, and descend into a wonderful world created by David Rockwell and company.

LUNDEN: The exhibit is an immersive dive into the backstage of every Broadway show from a stage manager's desk to a room dedicated to writers to costume and set design areas. In one of the museum's Instagrammable (ph) scenes, you can get your picture taken on a stage with the auditorium in the background. And there are videos with hundreds of theater-makers. At the end of the exhibit, there's a link to a website with information about careers on Broadway. But curator Ben West adds...

WEST: Well, not quite the end because there's a gift shop.

LUNDEN: The Museum of Broadway is officially open now and forever, its founders hope, like the old ad for "Cats." For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF REFUGEE CAMP ALL-STARS SONG, "THE SWEETEST THING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.