Curtain Up: An Exhibit at the NYPL to Remind Theatre Nerds of Everything We Love

I’m that New York cliché who fell in love with theatre as a little kid. Who vividly remembers the magic of sitting in the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, watching a play for the very first time at age eight. It was love at first scene.

You know the dork who said her favorite cd was Les Miserables when the cool answer in sixth grade was Spice World? Yep, That was me! 

I listened to RENT so many times, I bet you $525,600 I still know every single word.

Were you also that kid?

curtain up playbill nypl

Are you that adult who has a giant box of hundreds of Playbills in your tiny apartment that you can’t dream of throwing away?

Regardless of whether your love of theatre has faded or remains as strong as the moment the curtain rose on your first Broadway show, there is an exhibit at the Library of the Performing Arts that’s for you. It’s beautiful, it’s informative, and it’s especially welcoming to struggling artists because it’s FREE.

Curtain Up: Celebrating the Last 40 Years of Theatre in New York and London

curtain up broadway nypl

From now through June 30th at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts this exhibit gives you a peek behind the curtain at the details that combine to create the magic of live theatre.

If you’re like me and struggle with your relationship with show business, it might be the perfect reminder of everything that made you fall in love in the first place.

I walked into Curtain Up and it was like a time machine. BOOM I was  8 again and utterly transfixed by the spectacle of Phantom of the Opera.

curtain up costumes nypl

I haven’t seen this show in DECADES. I’m a jaded New Yorker cliché who makes fun of tourists who see Phantom of the Opera these days! But I was so obsessed with this show as a kid that I even read the source novel. It’s hard to forget seeing this show because holy crap, it is an incredible, lavish spectacle. Just seeing these sketches, made over 30 years ago by designer Maria Björnson who also designed Phantom‘s set (damn, girl!), reminded me why this is the longest running show in Broadway history.

Original costume sketches and costume pieces worn on actually Broadway and West End Stages are featured in many corners here.

curtain up 80s nypl

Have you ever opened your Playbill and looked up the Costume Designer? I haven’t. This made me feel like a jerk for not appreciating the artistry involved in costume design the way I appreciate the belting of the leads.

This exhibit is going to change the way I view shows in the future. I’m not being dramatic, I’m serious! Let’s remember all elements that create a show, not just the actor-centric view of performances.

curtain up set models nypl

How about sets? Curtain up has a dozen of set models, like the above An Inspector Calls, and many from shows I saw on Broadway when I first moved to New York: In the Heights, War Horse, and Sunday in the Park with George, and Matilda.

curtain up matilda nypl

I was too distracted by the awkward date I was on (remember?) to really appreciate the unique set design of Matilda. Hooray for Curtain Up for making me remember the rainbow Scrabble board explosion and whimsy of Rob Howell’s Olivier Award winning set.

In contrast is the sparse set of A Chorus Line. This game changing musical has one of the more interactive parts of the exhibit. If “God I hope I get it” speaks to you in a painfully relatable way, trust me, you want to walk through this hall.

curtain up chorus line nypl

One of the incredible things about  Library of the Performing Arts is their extensive Theatre on Film and Tape Archive. Since 1970 the library has kept recordings of Broadway shows and even some regional productions.

Wish you could have seen Idina and Kristin in Wicked? Ian Mckellen and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot? You can at the Library of the Performing Arts!

Well…sorta… it is restricted, according to “The Archive is available to theatre professionals, students, or researchers with work or study-related reasons for viewing.”  One of my favorite parts of Curtain Up is that it features many videos from their vast collection. No appointment, no fibbing about “research” necessary.

curtain up lion king nypl

Other highlights of the Curtain Up include a letter Sir Ian McKellen wrote to his understudy in Amadeus (so sweet), a dress that Dame Judy Dench sweat in 8 shows a week, and a reminder of how maverick and daring Julie Taymor’s Lion King really was. Having been on Broadway for 20 years, it’s easy to forget.

The New York Public Library of the Performing Arts is open every day 10:30AM-6PM (Mondays and Thursdays until 8PM) except Sunday. Find more about Curtain Up on their website here:

If you have any memories of falling in love with theatre, or any of the shows mentioned, please feel free to share them in the comments!

About New York Cliche

NYC lifestyle blog by Mary Lane. Events, adventures, epic mistakes, dating, life, humor. A 20-something trying to make it (and make out) in the city of dreams.

4 thoughts on “Curtain Up: An Exhibit at the NYPL to Remind Theatre Nerds of Everything We Love

    1. Hehe, don’t we all have procrastination issues? They say that means your a creative person, right 😛 Hope you get to visit- not a bad place to go during bad weather actually! It’s cozy.

    1. What’s your favorite musical/play? Aw, you need to give me my first “assignment” so we can start our collab and you can get even more wistful <3

Comments are closed.