Dear Smithsonian Museums – Why Do You Exclude Broadway?

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Last weekend I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History with a friend. It was great to see that they had a ton of amazing displays and exhibits like the dresses of the First Ladies and an exhibit for American Films and the movie industry. They even had a singing performance that reminded me of the Scottsboro Boys that you could watch and participate with. The one thing missing was an exhibit about the only art that has ever originated in America which is Musical Theatre.

There were plays in Ancient Greece and there were operas in Italy. You could watch ballet in Russia, but there was absolutely no version of Musical Theatre until the Americans created it and made it famous. Now you can find shows everywhere from the West End in London to Scandinavia, Australia and virtually every modern country. That is why I was shocked that the Smithsonian Museum of American History ignored America’s only original contribution to the fine arts.

Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz

Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz

They did have Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers on display which is a movie musical, but that is part of America’s History with Film and movies, not pure Broadway. They have Archie Bunker’s chair on display which is great because it was such an iconic show that could represent a generation, however only those generations would recognize the name Archie Bunker. When you say Star Spangled Banner, everyone in the US in just about every generation will recognize the name, even if they don’t know it is an actual flag, because of the song written by Francis Scott Key, just like almost everyone in the US would think theatre, singing and dancing when you say Broadway.

Something that is so widely recognized and loved around the world that originated in the USA has been excluded from the Smithsonian Museum of American History and I think it is an absolute shame. Displays and merchandise should be easy to get as well as donations of sets, costumes and even playbills would be fairly easy to acquire. They could have interactive displays to make kids and adults enjoy it like match a note with a famous star and get people to sing, as well as trying to memorize lines and repeat them back. They could play cast recordings, video clips from stage productions and really spark memories from people who have grown up with Broadway and loving Musical Theatre.

I don’t know if there is a reason that they don’t have an exhibit or even mention Broadway in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, but I hope that they choose to create a display, and I would be more than happy to donate my time and energy to helping them build it. Broadway is one of the most important forms of art in the world and the only one that originated in America. There is a great documentary called Broadway, The American Musical that I watch and they have a Matching CD set that is available and I hope that the Smithsonian Museum of American History finds this, watches it and discovers why and how Broadway has been a huge piece of American history and why it deserves to have it’s own exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

2 Responses to “Dear Smithsonian Museums – Why Do You Exclude Broadway?”

  1. Jonathan

    Why indeed. You raised an excellent point about the instrinsic Amercan art form, musical theater, and its current absense from the Smithsonian. Alas, rock music, country, etc., have long since surpassed musical theater songs as America’s popular music. Who would believe the original cast recordings from “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot” had the number one spot the Billboard charts?

    The Smithsonian’s Portrait Gallery once toasted American Musicals – both film and stage – at its Portrait Gallery: ” “Red, Hot and Blue: A Salute to American Musicals” in 1997 (http://www.si.edu/Exhibitions/Details/Red-Hot–Blue-A-Salute-to-American-Musicals-1848) and this exhibit later toured across America. The Smithsonian also produced a multi-volume anthology of American musical songs on compact disc, but I believe this is out of print.

    Perhaps we need to advocate a “revival” of sorts at the Smithsonian which showcases this uniquely American art form.

    • BroadwayReviewed

      I agree. Musical Theatre is something that they could easily add back into the museum and it isn’t hard to find donations for the exhibits from Actors, Theatres and other sources.