The Ten Coolest Artifacts at the New Museum of Broadway

Peek behind the curtain of “Ziegfeld Follies,” “The Lion King,” “Kinky Boots” and more

Exterior of Museum of Broadway
The Museum of Broadway opens this week, bringing New York its first permanent museum dedicated to the Great White Way. Monique Carboni

It’s finally showtime for the highly-anticipated Museum of Broadway. After several pandemic-related delays, the museum opened its doors in Times Square on Tuesday. It’s the first permanent museum in New York dedicated to Manhattan’s iconic theater district.

“It’s kind of crazy that there hasn't been one before,” Julie Boardman, the museum’s co-founder, tells Smithsonian magazine. “It seems like a hidden obvious, because Broadway is such a huge part of the fabric of New York society.”

Boardman and Diane Nicoletti, the museum’s other co-founder, have filled that void with a glitzy, immersive museum that takes visitors through a comprehensive history of the Great White Way, from its 18th-century origins all the way through its abrupt 2020 closure and grand 2021 reopening.

“Broadway’s rebuilding after Covid, and the city’s coming back to life,” Boardman says. “That we get to open at this time is even more meaningful, I think, for the community.”

An impressive collection of original artifacts, from miniature set designs to dazzling costumes, are on display at the museum, painting a vivid picture of Broadway’s rich history. Here are a few that you won’t want to miss.

Original Ziegfeld Follies costumes

Original Ziegfeld Follies costumes
The elaborate Ziegfeld Follies costumes from the 1900s Ella Feldman

The first two costumes you see at the Museum of Broadway are from the early 1900s—but you wouldn’t know it just from looking at them. “It’s amazing that they’ve been able to hold up as long as they have,” Nicoletti tells Smithsonian magazine. Bursting with rhinestones and feathers, the elaborate garments and headdresses were donned by showgirls in original Ziegfeld Follies revues. Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. introduced his vaudeville variety shows to Broadway in 1907, and they paved the way for modern musical theater.

A Hello, Dolly! headpiece

A Hello, Dolly! Headpiece
The glamorous Hello, Dolly! costume Ella Feldman

The glitz and glamor continues a few rooms later with an original Hello, Dolly! costume. An elegant red gown—which Bernadette Peters wore in the 2017 revival of the 1964 Broadway production—is on display, along with a matching, Follies-esque headpiece. The red feathered headdress has graced the crowns of Peters, Donna Murphy and Bette Midler in the revival.

A military jacket from Hair

A military jacket from Hair
A military jacket from Hair's 1968 run Ella Feldman

When the trailblazing rock musical Hair premiered off-Broadway in 1967, many found watching it to be like holding up a mirror. Hair tells a story about hippies responding to the Vietnam War, and its songs were quickly embraced by the counterculture movement it was depicting. The production broke just about every unspoken rule of musical theater, sparking controversy and making history with bold choices such as its iconic nude scene. On display at the museum is a red, decked out military jacket worn in the show’s 1968 run on Broadway. It’s just one highlight of the museum’s vintage garment selection, which also includes costumes from A Chorus Line (1975) and a dress from Annie (1977).

A siamese Cats costume

A siamese Cats costume
The siamese cat ensemble Ella Feldman

It’s hard to keep your eyes off of the siamese cat ensemble that designer John Napier devised for the 1982 Broadway debut of Cats—its orange sequins and turquoise eyes beckon you to stare. The original costume is on display next to Napier’s imaginative sketches for the show. If campy, over-the-top costumes are your thing, keep an eye out for a jacket made out of magazine pages worn in Rent (1996), a head-to-toe orange jumpsuit from Mamma Mia! (2001), and a shimmering, green geometric dress worn in The Wiz Live! (2015).

Meryl Streep’s Broadway debut costume

Meryl Streep’s Broadway debut costume
Meryl Streep’s costume from her Broadway debut, Trelawny of the “Wells" Ella Feldman

Before she received any of her 21 Oscar nominations, Meryl Streep stepped out onto a Broadway stage for the first time in an intricate, ivory two-piece outfit. That very costume, which Streep wore in a 1975 production of Trelawny of the “Wells,” is on display at the museum. A number of costumes worn by stars are also on view, including Jennifer Hudson’s dress from The Color Purple (2015) and Daniel Radcliffe’s suit from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (2011).

Simba and Nala masks from The Lion King

Simba and Nala masks from The Lion King
Two masks from the 1997 production of The Lion King Ella Feldman

Some of the artifacts on display at the Museum of Broadway could hold their own in an art museum, including two intricately constructed Simba and Nala masks from the 1997 production of The Lion King. The masks, designed by Julie Taymor and Michael Curry, are on display next to an original cheetah costume from the production.

A mini city block for In The Heights

A mini city block for In The Heights
A set design for In The Heights Ella Feldman

In addition to guiding visitors through Broadway history, the museum also offers a peek into how a show gets made. Among the museum’s artifacts are a number of set models, which designers create to prototype their visions. One of the most enchanting is Anna Louizos’ set model for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights (2008), which features tiny storefronts and miniature pictures of the show’s cast members. Miranda fans can also geek out over costumes worn in Hamilton (2015), including the lead actor’s boots.

Kinky boots from Kinky Boots

Speaking of boots, a pair of Broadway’s most famous boots are in the museum’s collection. Those would be the knee-high, lace-up red heeled boots from Kinky Boots (2013), which tells the story of a man who saves his father’s shoe factory by teaming up with a drag queen to create a high-heeled boot line. The kinky boots are on display next to hot pink booties worn in Mean Girls (2018).

Mask molds from The Phantom of the Opera

Mask molds from The Phantom of the Opera
The molds used to make Phantom's iconic mask Ella Feldman

A stark white mask that covers half of the wearer’s face has become an instantly-recognizable symbol for Broadway fans. That’s thanks to The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running production in Broadway history, which announced earlier this year that it will end its run in February. In the Museum of Broadway’s “The Making of a Broadway Show” exhibit, visitors get a behind-the-scenes look at how the iconic mask is made for the stage. Phantom fans should also keep an eye out for an original monkey music box.

Al Hirschfeld’s barber chair

Al Hirschfeld’s Barber Chair
The barber chair Al Hirschfeld drew from Ella Feldman
The Museum of Broadway’s first temporary exhibit celebrates the work of Al Hirschfeld, a caricaturist who documented decades of Broadway history in his whimsical drawings. While you get lost in Hirschfeld’s work, you can also take a look at his barber’s chair. Throughout his eight-decade career, the artist drew nearly all of his caricatures from the barber’s chair, which he called the “last functional chair” due to its swiveling and reclining capabilities. The chair on display at the museum was a back-up, identical to the one Hirschfeld swore by all his life.

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