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Cast members from Bye Bye Birdie in a photo on stage.
Photograph: By Friedman-Abeles, 1960-61. | Bye Bye Birdie, original Broadway production. / Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 

Explore never-before-seen historic Broadway images at this new library exhibit

See some of Broadway's most famous shows through fresh eyes.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan

See some of Broadway's most famous shows through fresh eyes at this new exhibit at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The exhibition showcases lenticular prints, which appear to animate as you move around. 

"Reanimating Theater: The Photography of Friedman-Abeles," opens March 15 and runs through September 25, 2024. It brings to life photographs by Friedman-Abeles Studio of some of Broadway's most beloved productions from 1954-1970, like West Side StoryCamelot, and Bye, Bye Birdie

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The Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center is a New York Public Library branch that's dedicated to documenting performance history. It houses one of the world's largest collections focused on the performing arts with eight million items (!!!) from 11th-century music, to 20th-century manuscripts to contemporary hip-hop dance. It's also well known for its Film and Tape Archive, which includes over 8,000 recordings of live Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, which anybody with a a library card can watch. 

A photograph from Purlie the musical with characters in a church scene.
Photograph: By Friedman-Abeles, 1970-71. | Purlie, original Broadway production. / Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

For this new exhibit, library curators used the technology of lenticular printing to simulate animations of several photographs. Lenticular printing basically uses a special kind of plastic to produce different images from one single print.

Curators sourced the photos from the trove of images taken by Friedman-Abeles Studio between 1954-1970. During that period, the studio photographed the majority of the plays and musicals on Broadway. If you're a Broadway buff, you might already be familiar with the company's black-and-white images. However, few have seen the show photographs they took in color.

"The cost of reproducing these images in the pre-digital era meant that, aside from a few selections in record album liner notes or on magazine covers, these photographs have never been seen before," library officials said in a press release.

Over the last three years, the library digitized most of the color slides in the collection, along with all of the negatives for dozens of shows. Now, those color slides are getting a new life in this exhibit.

The library used the color photos to create the animations, which give a sense of the movement of the original production. They can even reveal details that would be impossible to notice in a static image. They're a joy to look at for devoted theater lovers and kids alike.  

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