History Comes Alive on Broadway

Jun 18, 2024

Broadway reflects America’s past and present, embodying stories spanning centuries. Broadway stages have brought characters from a variety of eras to life, offering audiences a unique and engaging way to explore history.

Incorporating travel and theatre into the teaching of history can be extremely beneficial. It provides a break from the traditional classroom setting, offering an interactive learning experience that can leave a lasting impression. The theatrical performances on Broadway, rich in historical context, allow students to visualize and better understand the events, people, and cultures of different eras. This fusion of education and entertainment can ignite students’ interest in history and inspire a deeper appreciation for the arts.

Selecting the Ideal Historical Broadway Show for Students: A Short Guide

The most famous example of a historical Broadway musical is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s game-changing musical, Hamilton, based on the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. This production not only narrates Hamilton’s story but delves deep into the birth of the United States, offering a fresh and insightful look at the nation’s early years. The clever use of rap and hip-hop to portray 18th-century events has successfully engaged a new generation of theatregoers, demonstrating the power of Broadway to make history resonate with contemporary audiences.

The show’s multi-racial casting also provides a more inclusive depiction of America’s past. By casting actors of color as America’s founding fathers, Hamilton challenges traditional narratives and encourages audiences to reconsider how history is told and understood. Moreover, Hamilton’s complex characters and intricate relationships offer valuable lessons in empathy and perspective-taking, encouraging audiences to understand and relate to their motivations, struggles, and triumphs by humanizing historical figures. This can foster a deeper understanding of the complexities of historical events, enhancing students’ critical thinking skills.

Created by and starring Shaina Taub, SUFFS is another historical Broadway production, this time focusing on the women’s suffrage movement. The show brings to life the struggles and victories of women fighting for their right to vote, revealing a crucial chapter of American history to a wide audience. Its dynamic storytelling and powerful performances create an emotional connection, fostering a deeper understanding of the sacrifices made by these pioneering women.

The struggle for women’s right to vote becomes more than just a historical event on the stage. It’s a story of determination, resilience, and courage, bringing to life the personalities that drove the movement and the obstacles they had to overcome. The characters in SUFFS are not just historical figures but real women who dared to challenge societal norms and fight for equality. Even more importantly, SUFFS serves as a reminder of the power of collective action and the importance of civic participation. The musical teaches about the past and inspires audiences to reflect on the present. It encourages them to consider their role in continuing the fight for equality and to appreciate the rights and freedoms that were hard-won by those who came before them.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless classic, The Great Gatsby, has also found its way to Broadway, inviting audiences to return to the Roaring Twenties. The opulence and decadence of the Jazz Age are brought to life on stage, complete with stunning costumes and jazz-infused music. In addition to being an entertaining spectacle, the show offers a glimpse into the socio-cultural dynamics of the era, underscoring the impact of wealth and social status on people’s lives.

The characters in The Great Gatsby make up a fascinating ensemble led by Jeremy Jordan and Eva Noblezada. Their desires, dilemmas, and actions offer insights into the societal norms and values of the 1920s. The portrayal of Gatsby’s obsessive pursuit of wealth and Daisy’s struggle with societal expectations provides a nuanced perspective on the pressures and pitfalls of the Jazz Age. Moreover, by exploring themes such as class division and moral decay, the show encourages audiences to critically examine the era beyond its surface glamour.

SIX reimagines the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives, transforming them from historical footnotes into empowered figures with distinct voices. The show provides a fun and engaging history lesson that sparks conversations about representation and gender dynamics, both in past and present contexts.

As each queen takes the stage, they share their experiences in the form of a pop song, injecting their historical narratives with emotion, humor, and energy. The result is a unique and entertaining history lesson that brings these royal women out of Henry VIII’s shadow and into the spotlight. But beyond its entertainment value, SIX also serves as a commentary on the representation of women in history. By allowing these queens to share their own stories, the musical challenges traditional narratives and invites audiences to reconsider how history is told and remembered.

Integrating Education and Entertainment: Planning a Broadway Trip for History Students

When planning an educational trip to Broadway, several factors must be considered to ensure the experience is both enjoyable and enlightening for your class or group. First, selecting the right Broadway show is crucial. Consider the age and interests of your group, as well as the historical content you wish to explore. Shows like Hamilton or SUFFS might suit older students studying American history, while The Great Gatsby could complement a literature or social studies curriculum.

Once you’ve chosen a show, it’s time to plan the logistics. Broadway shows are popular, so booking tickets well in advance is advisable. Group discounts are often available, so be sure to inquire when purchasing. Remember that New York City can be busy and overwhelming when making travel arrangements, especially for young travelers. Plan your routes carefully, allow plenty of time for travel, and consider arranging guided tours to enhance the experience.

In addition to watching the show, it’s beneficial to supplement the experience with educational materials or activities. Many Broadway shows offer study guides online, which include background information, discussion questions, and activities related to the show’s historical context. Also, consider arranging post-show discussions or activities. These could consist of writing reviews, creating presentations, or engaging in debates about the historical events or figures portrayed.

Maximizing Your Theatre Experience: Pre and Post-Show Activities for History Students

It’s also worth exploring the historic district and many other educational attractions New York City offers. The Theatre District itself is steeped in history. The theatres, many of which have stood for over a hundred years, have hosted countless legendary performances and are worth exploring. Consider taking a guided tour of the district, which can provide fascinating insights into these iconic venues’ architecture, history, and behind-the-scenes workings.

New York City is also home to many other historic and educational attractions that can complement your Broadway experience. The American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum are just a few examples of places that offer rich learning experiences.

While in the city, take the chance to explore its diverse neighborhoods, each with its unique history and culture. From the immigrant history of the Lower East Side to the Black heritage of Harlem, these neighborhoods offer a real-world context to the historical narratives presented in Broadway shows.

Whether you’re an educator seeking to make learning more engaging, a student yearning to experience history first-hand, or a theater lover with a passion for the past, Broadway offers a unique and mesmerizing journey through time. Remember, there’s no substitute for the magic of live theater. So, why not bring your love for history and learning right here to the epicenter of the theatrical world? Come see a Broadway show where history comes alive in the most spectacular fashion. Let’s celebrate the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future under the bright lights of Broadway.

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus.