Take a Trip Into History: NYC's Best Theatrical Museums and Exhibitions

News   Take a Trip Into History: NYC's Best Theatrical Museums and Exhibitions
Are you a proud theatre nerd? Plan a fascinating NYC staycation this summer with our round-up of theatrical museums and exhibitions. We've got everything from an exhibition about 19th-century showboats to the definitive collection of historic Broadway costumes!


If you're a big theatre fan — and especially if your love for the genre goes beyond the 29 shows currently running on Broadway — a visit to one of New York City's many wonderful museums may be just the weekend staycation you're looking for this summer. Here's a round-up of seven theatrical museum outings that no Broadway buff will want to miss!


Chances are you're already familiar with Al Hirschfeld; as a caricaturist for over 70 years, Hirschfeld specialized in capturing Broadway shows and performers, lending his distinctive artistic style to countless beloved drawings over the years. Through Oct. 12, The New York Historical Society is exhibiting The Hirschfeld Century, made up of nine decades of Hirschfeld's work and over 100 original drawings. The museum's gift shop is also the only place to pick up a copy of the beautiful new coffee table book that accompanies the exhibition.

For more information, visit the New York Historical Society's website!

Located steps away from Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre where The King and I is currently playing, New York Public Library's Performing Arts Library is filled to the brim with theatrical goodies. Their circulating collection contains virtually every book written about the theatre you could ever hope to find. They also have a quite impressive research library. Of particular note of the Theatre on Tape and Film Archive, which houses video recordings of many complete Broadway shows over the last 40 years. Though access is restricted to "qualified researchers," don't let this deter you; preparing for an audition and writing a paper for school both count as qualified research.


If sitting at a reading table isn't your idea of a fun day, NYPL's Performing Arts Library also has some fantastic exhibitions currently on display. You can walk through Sinatra: An American Icon, the official exhibition of the Frank Sinatra Centennial. Sinatra may have never played a role on Broadway, but as a popular singer from an era in which Broadway enjoyed a golden age, he recorded countless showtunes. He also helped bring prominent Broadway musicals to the big screen, playing roles in the movie adaptations of On the Town, Guys and Dolls, Pal Joey and others. With 100 years of Sinatra legacy on display, this exhibition is available to walk through until Sept. 4.

Through August 8, the library is also showing Head Shots: Performer Portraits from Daguerreotype to Digital. According to the official description, "visitors will see how images are posed, taken, and selected and understand how every step contributes to the very pragmatic aims of employment and publicity." Curated from the library's collection of over 1,000,000 head shots, this exhibition really shows it all. There is even a free guided tour available with Broadway casting director Andrew Zerman July 11!

Beginning July 23, the library will be hosting a multi-media exhibition called The Genius of Geoffrey Holder, celebrating the career of the legendary performer, director and choreographer. Everything from his Alvin Ailey days to his Tony Award-winning direction and costume design for The Wiz will be on display through Aug. 29.

For more information about these and many other events held at the NYPL Performing Arts Library, visit their website!

Feel like venturing into Queens? It may not be a museum per say, but the TDF Costume Collection is well worth the visit for any Broadway fan. Located at Kaufman Astoria Film Studios in Astoria, this collection houses over 80,000 costumes and accessories. Pieces are constantly donated to the collection from Broadway, Off-Broadway, opera, film and regional productions, so they have some pretty amazing things. The collection is open to the public, which means you can walk down aisle after aisle of Broadway history. You'll see costumes worn by Lena Horne, Patti LuPone, the original Broadway companies of Rent and Into the Woods — the list goes on and on!

For more information, visit the TDF Costume Collection website!

If you're interested in digging a little further back into theatrical history, there's a fascinating exhibition in the Bronx right now called Showboat 'Round the Bend. Showboats, like the Cotton Blossom immortalized in the classic musical Show Boat, traveled down America's rivers presenting plays, vaudeville acts and even ultimately movies to towns that often had no other major live entertainment venues at the time. The exhibition features playbills, photographs, oral histories, video clips and more. Available to be seen Monday to Saturday 9 AM to 4 PM, the exhibition is currently being shown as part of an open-ended engagement. It's on display at the Maritime Industry Museum on the campus of SUNY Maritime — 6 Pennyfield Avenue, Bronx, NY. For more information, call The Maritime Industry Museum at (718) 409-7218.

(Logan Culwell is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research and curator of Playbill Vault. Please visit LoganCulwell.com.)

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