What is the Great White Way?

Mary McMahon

The Great White Way is a section of Broadway Avenue in New York City that is famous for housing a number of theaters. It is widely regarded as the home of live theater in the United States, much like Hollywood is the center of film and television production, and it is world famous. Visitors to New York City may opt to make time to attend one or more shows in one of the numerous theaters along the Great White Way and in the surrounding areas.

The Great White Way is located in Midtown Manhattan.
The Great White Way is located in Midtown Manhattan.

This stretch of Broadway runs from 42nd to 53rd Streets. There are actually relatively few theaters on Broadway itself, with the bulk being located on the streets immediately adjacent. Situated in Midtown Manhattan, the Great White Way is centrally located near a number of other attractions including museums and Times Square, a famous location and popular tourist destination in New York City.

Broadway is a venue for all kinds of street performers.
Broadway is a venue for all kinds of street performers.

The theater tradition in New York City dates back to the 1800s. Theatergoers in the United States were once a rowdy lot, interrupting performances and occasionally rioting if productions did not meet their taste. The theater district in New York City is particularly famous for its musicals, and the history of campy melodrama and musical productions in the United States is almost as old as the Great White Way itself. Events such as the Tony Awards that recognize noted performers are usually held in venues near the Great White Way, such as Radio City Music Hall.

Origins of the term “Great White Way” are usually attributed to the fact that this region of New York City was one of the first areas to be electrified, and numerous theaters used bright white marquee lights to advertise their productions and other events. The term is commonly credited to a review in a 1902 edition of the New York Evening Telegram, one of the many newspapers that thrived in New York around the turn of the 20th century.

Visitors to New York City can see a number of sites along the Great White Way during the day, and can visit theaters to arrange for tickets if they have not already booked tickets by phone or online. It is strongly recommended to make reservations for most productions in advance to ensure seats and to have an opportunity to get the best possible seats. Prices vary, depending on the theater and the production and sometimes travel agents can arrange special deals for their clients, as can some hotels.

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Discussion Comments


@irontoenail - I actually think Broadway and The Great White Way can be quite overrated. Yes, it shows the more popular commercial productions but when it comes down to it, it's just like books. What is most popular is not always best. It's only what appeals to the lowest common denominator.

There are plenty of other venues that host less popular, but possibly better shows.

I have seen pictures of the Great White Way that were taken when electric light was first being introduced to New York and it seems stunning. Imagine the feeling the people in the city must have felt seeing them for the first time. Sure they had gas lights before that, but how does a gas light compare to a shimmering marquee full of hundreds of bulbs? No comparison.

I've never heard of it being referred to as The Great White Way, I've only ever heard of people talking about Broadway when referring to the theater district.

Although people seem, more and more, to be referring to theater in general as "Broadway". As in, "I'm going to Broadway" when they want to try that kind of acting.

I actually think it would be more interesting for someone to say something like "I'm going to dance down the Great White Way" if they want to talk about auditioning for theater.

Although, really the shows like musicals on Broadway are only a particular kind of show, the ones that do really well, or are considered to be big winners.

If you are just starting out as an actor, you're more likely to be performing in the smaller venues.


I have seen countless musicals on the great white way over the years. But I think the best Broadway show I ever saw was a production of South Pacific that was staged in the early 80s. I never would have predicted that South Pacific would become my all time musical, but the production was fantastic.


The first time I ever went to New York was when I was 15. I wanted to see it all but more than anything else I wanted to see Broadway.

I had always been dazzled by the theater. At the time I was even an aspiring actor myself. My parents obliged and we walked almost the entire length of the theater district. I was in awe. I had never seen something so grand and colorful in my life. And to think that I that energy had been put into the theater, to exactly the thing that I wanted to do. I was in heaven.

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