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Episode 63: THE OTHER BROADWAY, part 1: The Origins of New York Nightlife

In This Episode

This is the first episode of a new Broadway Nation mini-series that explores what I am calling, “The Other Broadway”. 

Today when we see or hear the word “Broadway”, we most likely think of New York’s Theater District and it’s 41 active theaters nestled in and around Times Square (where today 36 plays and musicals have thankfully returned to the stage!)  Or that word evokes the legendary cannon of shows that have played in those theaters, most especially those great, glorious Broadway musicals that up until now have been the principal subject of this podcast.

That, however, is really only part of what “Broadway” has meant to most people during the first half of the 20th Century – when Broadway was at the center of American culture.  For more than 5 decades the word “Broadway” meant not just the performances in the legitimate theaters – those Plays, Musicals, and Revues.  But also, or even more so, it meant the Nightlife that surrounded them.  From the 1910s through the 1950s there were hundreds of cabarets, speakeasys and nightclubs crammed into the Theater District.  And they epitomized “Broadway” just as much as what was happening in the theaters, 

In fact, the most famous songs about Broadway – those anthemic tributes that you hear on every Tony Awards show and every Broadway themed occasion such as “Give My Regards To Broadway”, “Lullaby Of Broadway” and “On Broadway” – all have lyrics that are much more about the nightlife than they are about the shows.

During this series I will lead my listeners on a late night tour of Broadway’s most famous hot spots including Rector’s, Reisenweber’s, The El Fay Club, Club Durant, Club Richman, The Hotsy Totsy Club, Club Alabam, The Silver Slipper, The Pansy Club, The Stork Club, Casa Lopez, La Conga, 21, The Parody Club, The Rainbow Room, The Latin Quarter, El Morocco, The Astor Roof, The Cotton Club (it was in Times Square for a while), Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe, The Copacabana and many more.

There you will rub elbows with such stars as Vernon & Irene Castle, James Reese Europe, Sophie Tucker, Clifton Webb, George Raft, Rudolph Valentino, Gilda Gray, Texas Guinan, Ethel Waters, Florence Mills, Helen Morgan, Harry Richman, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Desi Arnaz, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Fats Waller, and Clayton, Jackson, & Durante to name only a few.

However, before we venture out into the night, we need to look back to the origins of this other side of Broadway, so in this first episode I explore exactly where New York nightlife began.

I hope that you enjoy it.  I am now entirely obsessed and fascinated by this subject! Please let me know what you think!

 

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