This Is Widely Considered To Be The First Musical Performed On Broadway

When musical theater lovers think of New York City, they most often think of Broadway, home to such recent smash hits as "Hamilton," "The Book of Mormon," and "The Lion King," among others, according to New York has been home to live theater dating back to the 1700s, and in the latter part of the 19th century, venues relocated to what became known as the Theater District, per BroadwayWorld. Today, it's simply hard to imagine New York without live performances and the style of theater now known as the musical, which as Britannica explains, are a relatively recent innovation. 

However, there was a time in New York before Broadway singers and dancers took the stage. And though it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when, where, how, and by whom the modern musical first got started, the first performance that today's theater-goers might recognize as a musical is thought by many scholars to have happened on Broadway in 1866, according to BroadwayWorld. It's the total run time of those early performances that Broadway fans might find unfamiliar.

Niblo's Garden on Broadway

As the New York Public Library website explains, what's typically thought of as the first musical, according to modern standards, was performed in 1866 at a venue called Niblo's Garden, which no longer exists. (Niblo's Garden had a 3,200 person capacity, according to Mixing music and live performance was nothing new. It dated back to Ancient Greek theater and continued in one form or another all throughout European history, spanning high and low art, from opera to European music hall performances.

According to Britannica, the modern musical uses song and dance to further the plot rather than as a kind of sideshow to the narrative. The long run of performances beginning in 1866 most closely fits that definition. And it all happened because the Academy of Music had burned down, leaving a visiting European ballet troupe no place to perform.

Blending ballet with a melodramatic storyline, producers developed a new show from preexisting bits and pieces and found a spot to perform at Niblo's Garden. With that, the first Broadway show (by modern standards) was born. It was a smashing success, according to 1902's "A History of the New York Stage from the First Performance in 1732 to 1901" by Thomas Allston Brown.

The Black Crook

The show that debuted at Niblo's Garden in 1866 was called "The Black Crook," and its earliest version was more than six hours long, according to the New York Public Library. The show's run lasted for nearly 500 performances, according to BroadwayWorld. "The Black Crook" tells the story of the diabolical Count Wolfenstein who is in love with a beautiful villager named Amina, per To win Amina's affection, Wolfenstein must first dispose of her lover, Rodolphe. To do so, he turns to Hertzog, an unseemly character and black magic practitioner. The melodramatic plot of "The Black Crook" only goes on from there.

Then as now, scandal and controversy sell tickets, and the same can be said of "The Black Crook," as crowds flocked to the theater to see an elaborate display and scantily-clad female dancers in a much more conservative period. The show also went on tour. But was it a musical by modern standards? That's a matter of some disagreement, according to It was, however, without a doubt the earliest show on Broadway that laid the groundwork for Broadway's success.