Venture Backstage with the Stars

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The Theater District gift shop is a haven for musical-lovers

By Laura Shanahan

Sing along with me now: "Mem-reees, misty blah-blah mem-reees?"

You got memories? Mad for music? Cuckoo for choreography? Over the moon for musicals? Bananas for Broadway? Stop me before I alliterate again.

Have I got a store for you: Backstage Memories, a gem of a family-run operation that glitters among the chain tchotchke dens and fast-feeders that predominate in the Theater District.

"This is one of the first gift shops in the area," Chi, a store associate, says of the nearly two-decades-old Backstage, which is located at 1638 Broadway, off 50th Street.

"We've seen a lot of the megastores come ? and we've seen them go," he adds, noting that his long view includes the district's pre-Disney era.

So how has Backstage thrived, while others, big and small, were washed away with the tides of time?

For one thing, the non-sprawling-sized store is exceptionally sparkling, neat and inviting. The wares are well-edited; the staff friendly. But perhaps most important, as Chi notes, the store has evolved to serve the clientele's changing tastes. It used to strictly offer Broadway-oriented goods ? and you will still find all manner of that: hit shows' scores and scripts, souvenir programs, theater reference-guides and so on. But in more recent times, there are additionally more generally New York-centric items. Representative of the latter category are the (official!) NYPD and FDNY T-shirts and sweats, complete with city logos and emblems; they start at $16 and $15, for each department respectively.

Also representative is the bubblegum pink T-shirt for little girls featuring an elaborate sparkly-studded big apple; $12.99. "Ah, kids love sparkly stuff," I observed to Chi, who smilingly rejoined, "Their parents love it more." No worries ? there are also tastefully blinged-out tops for grown-ups, too, so don't try to squeeze into a kids' size. (We've seen your kind on the street ? you're not looking any smaller by wearing a small size, okay?)

While the New York-themed stuff is grand ? oooh, lots of skyline-encasing snow globes, starting at $7.99 for enchanting miniatures ? the play's the thing, no? Are you a fan of Mamma Mia? (FYI: It's playing right next-door.) How about Wicked, Cinderella or Phantom of the Opera, now celebrating its 25th year? These are just some of the themed garments that are especially popular right now at the shop; prices start at about $20 and go up to $50.

But perhaps you'd like to taste the power of awarding an Oscar yourself ? but the odds of you actually presenting one to, say, Meryl Streep, are slim to none. Consider all the unsung heroes in your own life who are worthy of shiny faux-gold statuary dedicated to them ? or at least to their profession/relationship to you. Hence, here you can pick up a $14.99 "Oscar statuette" made out to "World's Greatest Boss." Don't have a great boss, let alone the world's greatest? How about your nonpareil husband, lawyer, dad, dentist or artist friend? The list of possibilities goes on. If your "greatest" person doesn't have any classifiable designation ? hard to believe with the choices here ? you may opt for "World's Greatest Person." A little, um, generic, but as Chi says, "It works for everyone!"

By the way, if you get priced out of buying tickets for Broadway hits, be advised a wide-screen TV here plays videos of them for your background viewing pleasure. Cool ? and classy.

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