Why is Broadway called the "great white way"?

Ever heard Broadway referred to as the "great white way"? It's called that because it was one of the first streets in New York City to be lit with electric lights. People continue to use this term today because the millions of lights on the theatre marquees still brighten up the night sky in a flashing white.  Lit by gas and poorly ventilated, theaters in nineteenth-century New York were vexed by fire. At the beginning of the twentieth century, architects realized that the safer electric light bulb had enormous advertising potential. As early as 1910, Broadway signage dazzled visitors and the street soon became known throughout the world as the Great White Way. In 1927, the journalist Will Irwin vividly captured the district’s look and energy: “Mildly insane by day, the square goes divinely mad by night. For then on every wall, above every cornice, in every nook and cranny, blossom and dance the electric advertising signs . . . . All other American cities imitate them, but none gets this massed effect of tremendous jazz interpreted in light.”

Personally I think the term "great white way" is more meaningful more than just an electricity reference. Language morphs over time, and I think this term has evolved to define a way of being rather than a way/path/walking space, as it meant many years ago. I interpret this way as a lifestyle, a way of living so that musical theater fits into your life in whatever form it takes, whether it's as an audience member, performer, writer, or simply someone who listens to original cast albums. As musical theater lovers, we are all traveling down our personal "great white way," our path to stardom and performing arts enjoyment.

Like what you read here? Don't miss upcoming posts, subscribe to our email newsletter.

--Sourced from Spotlight on Broadway