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On Broadway

The Tucson International Jewish Film Committee selected On Broadway for the festival to tell the often-overlooked history of the Jewish founders of the Great White Way. The film features legends Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Elaine Stritch, Stephen Sondheim, Michael Bennet, Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon, Tommy Tune, and many others performing in their prime.

Broadway was started by the Shuberts in the early 1900s when brothers Sam, Lee, and Jacob (and later Jacob’s son, John) broke up the NYC theater monopoly, the Theatrical Syndicate, which was under the control of Abe Erlanger and Mark Klaw in 1896. The Shuberts built the largest theater empire in the 20th century, theaters that became the foundation of Times Square and still exist today. The Shuberts introduced the Marx Brothers, Will Rogers, Jack Benny, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Bert Lahr, the Barrymore’s, Spencer Tracy, and dozens more to the stage (Gale Group, 1998).

Another Jewish family followed. James Nederlander bought his first theater in Detroit in 1905 and founded the family company, the Nederlander Organization, which still holds major influence today. They own more theater houses than anyone in NYC with an additional 15 theaters in major markets and established touring companies that bring Broadway shows to many local cities throughout the country such as Broadway in Tucson (Ivry, 2016).

Another great entrepreneur mentioned was Joe Papp, who founded the New York Shakespeare Festival in the Park in 1954, using Central Park for free productions of the plays. He also founded the Public Theater, which used improvisation to create storylines and dialogue (such as in “A Chorus Line,” 1975). This changed the face of the American Broadway theater, and diversity became a keystone forever after.

Now lights down. It’s showtime!

Gale Group (1998), Shubert brothers [Electronic version]. Encyclopedia of World Biography.
Ivry, B. (2016), Remembering Broadway theater impresario, James Nederlander [Electronic version]