When a Broadway show closes, the next stop for the hundreds of costumes, setpieces and props is often … the dumpster.
“The producers often stop paying rent in a storage unit somewhere, which is heartbreaking,” said Julie Boardman, one of the founders of the Museum of Broadway, which opened in Times Square this month.
Boardman, 40, a Broadway producer whose shows include “Funny Girl” and “Company,” and Diane Nicoletti, the founder of a marketing agency, are looking to reroute those items to their museum, a dream five years in the making.
“We see it as an experiential, interactive museum that tells the story of Broadway through costumes, props and artifacts,” Nicoletti, 40, said of the four-floor, 26,000-square-foot space on West 45th Street, next to the Lyceum Theater.
The museum was a self-funded project at the start, Nicoletti said, as they drew from Boardman’s connections to secure meetings with major players in the New York theater industry, including theater owners; the heads of the American Theater Wing, the Broadway League, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS; and executives from the licensing companies. (Boardman and Nicoletti declined to share the for-profit institution’s budget and early investors. Tickets cost $39 to $49, with a portion of each ticket benefiting the nonprofit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.)
Originally scheduled to open in 2020, the museum was delayed by the pandemic — though that gave Boardman and Nicoletti more time to acquire artifacts, photographs and costumes. A majority of the more than 1,000 objects on display — in addition to hundreds of photographs — are loans from individual artists, creators and producers, as well as performing arts organizations like Disney Theatrical Productions and the Public Theater.
The space is organized chronologically, starting with Broadway’s beginnings in the mid-18th century and running to productions onstage now. And more than 500 shows are highlighted here in the form of items like a pair of tap shoes from the current revival of “The Music Man” and the arm cast that the actor Sam Primack wore onstage in September during the final Broadway performance of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Several of the rooms were dreamed up by the same set designers who worked on the shows the spaces are devoted to, among them Paul Clay ( “Rent”) and Bunny Christie, who designed the recent revival of “Company.”
Nicoletti and Boardman said they also wanted to reveal how shows are made, and highlight the roles of costumers, press agents and stage managers. To that end, a first-floor space, by the “Hamilton” set designer David Korins, takes visitors behind the scenes of the making of a Broadway show.
“People don’t realize shows take five, seven, 10 years to put together,” Boardman said.
In addition to rotating the items on display in the permanent areas, Boardman said, the museum plans to host two or three special exhibitions each year in a first-floor space that is now devoted to the drawings of the theatrical caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
And as notable Broadway productions end their runs, well, they’ll be ready.
“We already have a glove from ‘MJ,’” Boardman said. “And we’re getting a ‘Strange Loop’ usher hat.”
Here are 10 highlights from the collection.
Broadway AIDS Quilt
This quilt, meant to mourn those lost to AIDS and show solidarity with those living with it, was one of the first projects initiated by the organizations Broadway Cares and Equity Fights AIDS. Shows running on Broadway in the late 1980s created handcrafted 7-inch-by-7-inch squares, with much of the work handled by the productions’ wardrobe teams. (Look for the square for the 1984 Terrence McNally musical “The Rink,” which is signed by Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera, who won a Tony Award for her role the show.)
Patti LuPone ‘Evita’ Wig
You aren’t likely to see a Museum of Broadway Wigs anytime soon. That’s because wigs are expensive, and they’re often reused, dyed or cut for new productions, said Michael McDonald, a costumes and props curator for the museum. But this one, created for LuPone by the celebrated wigmaker Paul Huntley for the original 1979 Broadway production of “Evita” — and possibly worn on the production’s opening night — was a gift to her. Each of the approximately 100,000 strands was fitted through a minuscule hole, one by one, to create an accurate hairline, resulting in a seamless look. “It’s hard to believe there’s bobby pins, a cap and a full head of her own hair under the wig,” McDonald said as he pointed to a photograph of LuPone wearing it.
‘West Side Story’ Jacket
This Jets jacket, worn by the actor Don Grilley, who succeeded Larry Kert, who played Tony in the original 1957 Broadway company of “West Side Story,” hung in a closet for decades. It was given to the museum by Grilley’s widow, Lesley Stewart Grilley. (Don Grilley died in 2017.) “We got lucky,” McDonald said. “There aren’t many costumes still around from the original.”
‘Hair’ Military Jacket
Clearly built to last, this red-and-green military jacket was worn by an ensemble member in the original 1968 production of “Hair,” the 2008 Public Theater revival in Central Park, the 2009 Broadway revival and that production’s 2010 transfer to London. But it most likely dates back even further, said McDonald, who received a Tony nomination for designing the costumes for the Broadway revival and loaned the jacket to the museum. “It was likely used in a production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at the Public in the 1960s,” he said.
Little Red Dress From ‘Annie’
The iconic fiery red frock from the 1977 Broadway musical about a little orphan with curly red hair whose pluck and positivity wins the heart of the billionaire Oliver Warbucks (not to mention the audience) is on loan from the Connecticut nonprofit Goodspeed Musicals. (“Annie” originated at Goodspeed Opera House in 1976.) “It’s honestly the most instantly recognizable costume on earth,” said Lisa Zinni, a costumes and props curator for the museum.
Meryl Streep’s Broadway Debut Costume
Luke McDonough, the costume master at the Public Theater since 1968, had the foresight to hold on to this one: a floor-length, off-white lacy number worn by a then-little-known actress named Meryl Streep, who made her Broadway debut in the Public’s production of “Trelawny of the Wells” at Lincoln Center in 1975. (One of her co-stars was another fresh face making his Broadway debut: Mandy Patinkin.)
‘Phantom of the Opera’ Chandelier Installation
Each of the 13,917 glistening crystals in this piece, which were fashioned by the German artist Ulli Böhmelmann into hanging strands, is meant to represent one performance the Broadway production of “The Phantom of the Opera” will have played from its opening on Jan. 26, 1988, through its closing night performance. Though the final show was originally set for Feb. 18, 2023, the production announced Tuesday that it had been pushed to April 16 amid strong ticket sales (Böhmelmann plans to add the necessary crystals).
‘Avenue Q’ Puppets
In the early days of the 2003 Broadway production of the puppet-filled musical comedy “Avenue Q,” the show’s low budget meant the puppeteers had to put their charges through quick changes. The show initially had only three Princeton puppets — but he had eight costumes — meaning the puppets took a beating from changing clothes multiple times eight shows a week. “Eventually, they had a puppet for every costume,” McDonald said.
Gershwin Theater Set Model
This scale model, which is just over five feet wide, was designed by Edward Pierce, the associate scenic designer of the original Broadway production of “Wicked,” and took four people seven weeks to build. It includes more than 300 individual characters — and another 300 seated audience members in the auditorium. (See if you can find the Easter egg: a small model of the set model, with the designers — who look like the actual designers — showing the director a future design for “Wicked.”)
Al Hirschfeld Etching of Barbra Streisand
The theater caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who was most famous for his sketches that ran in The New York Times the Sunday before a show opened, created around 10,000 drawings over his 82-year career. But one of his most popular pieces was his 1968 portrait of Barbra Streisand — captured here in a 1975 etching — which he drew on the Sunday before “Funny Girl” opened in March 1964. It depicts Streisand looking into a mirror showing a 1910 photo of Fanny Brice, whom she played in the Jule Styne musical. “For him, a caption was a toe-curling admission of failure,” said David Leopold, the Al Hirschfeld Foundation creative director who curated the special exhibition. “He wanted the drawing to stand on its own two feet.”