Category Archives: It’s Showtime

West Side Story: The Making of Lincoln Center

PODCAST The origin story of Lincoln Center, an elegy to the neighborhood its campus replaced, and a celebration of West Side Story, the film that brings together several aspects of this story in one glorious musical number.

Warm up the orchestra, lace up your dance slippers, and bring the diva to the stage! For our latest show we’re telling the origin story of Lincoln Center, the fine arts campus which assembles some of the city’s finest music and theatrical institutions to create the classiest 16.3 acres in New York City.

Lincoln Center was created out of an urgent necessity, bringing together the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the Julliard School and other august fine-arts companies as a way of providing a permanent home for American culture.

However this tale of Robert Moses’ urban renewal philosophies and the survival of storied institutions has a tragic twist. The campus sits on the site of a former neighborhood named San Juan Hill, home to thousands of African American and Puerto Rican families in the mid 20th century. No trace of this neighborhood exists today.

Or, should we say, ALMOST no trace. San Juan Hill exists, at least briefly, with a part of classic American cinema. The Oscar-winning film West Side Story, based on the celebrated musical, was partially filmed here. The movie reflects many realities of the neighborhood and involves talents who would be, ahem, instrumental in Lincoln Center’s continued successes.

FEATURINGLeonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price, James Earl Jones, Imelda Marcos, David Geffen and, naturally, the Nutcracker!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #218: LINCOLN CENTER AND WEST SIDE STORY

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

The Metropolitan Opera House, in 1904. In the far distance, you see One Times Square being constructed in Longacre Square.

Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY

The New York City Ballet had its first home at City Center while the New York Philharmonic was housed for decades at Carnegie Hall.

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Lincoln Square, 1920. This picture is actually taken from the spot where Lincoln Center stands today. The triangular plaza pictured here would later be called Dante Park (a statue to the Italian writer would be placed here a year after this photo was taken). Take note of the 9th Avenue elevated streaking up Columbus Avenue at the bottom of this image.

Arthur Hosking/Museum of the City of New York
Arthur Hosking/Museum of the City of New York

And that building to the right? That’s the Hotel Empire which is still standing there today (albeit in a greatly modified form). Here’s an ad for the Empire from 1909.

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Robert Moses’ slum clearance plan for San Juan Hill, published in 1956.

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Scenes from old San Juan Hill — 1932, 65th Street and Amsterdam Avenue

Charles Von Urban/MCNY
Charles Von Urban/MCNY

1939 — the stoop scene in San Juan Hill, street unknown

Courtesy MCNY Lee Sievan (1907-1990). San Juan Hill. 1939
Courtesy MCNY Lee Sievan (1907-1990). San Juan Hill. 1939

An early effort to improve the housing quality in the neighborhood — the Phipps Houses, built in 1906. An interesting New York Times article describes a few residents: “A typical tenant was the steamboat steward Joseph Craig, 36, classed as ‘mulatto’, who was born in Trinidad and arrived in the United States in 1891. Another was the horse breeder Daniel Moore, 43, born in Missouri and married for six years to Tilly Moore, 30, born in Cuba and in the United States since 1892; she worked as a domestic.”

MCNY
MCNY

The scene in April of 1963. The Philharmonic Hall was already opened by this point. This really brings home the fact that there must have been so much noise pollution due to construction which must have perturbed the organizers of the Philharmonic greatly!

(MATTSON/DAILYNEWS)
(MATTSON/DAILYNEWS)

The opening sequence of the Oscar-winning film West Side Story was filmed on the streets of San Juan Hill, the structures around the actors clearly boarded up and ready for demolition.

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(The website Tom mentioned on the show — Pop Spots NYC — shows a very detailed comparison of film scenes with maps and old photographs. Highly recommended!)

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An overhead view of Lincoln Center in 1969 with most of the major venues completed by this point. At the bottom right you see the Empire Hotel, then (moving clockwise around the fountain): the New York State Theater, Damrosch Park, the Metropolitan Opera House, the library and the Vivian Beaumont Theater and Philharmonic Hall.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Philharmonic Hall, later Avery Fisher Hall,  then David Geffen Hall — designed by Max Abramovitz.

MCNY
MCNY

The Metropolitan Opera House, designed by Wallace Harrison.

MCNY/Edmund Vincent Gillon
MCNY/Edmund Vincent Gillon

The New York State Theater, later the David H. Koch Theater.

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Jackie Kennedy attending the opening night of Philharmonic Hall, September 23, 1962.

 

Opening night at the New York State Theater, April 24, 1964

Bettman/Corbis
Bettman/Corbis
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Eero Saarinen’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, the reflecting pool featuring a sculpture by Henry Moore, and the Julliard School, designed by Pietro Belluschi.
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Patricia McBride and Edward Villella in front of the unfinished New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, in Tarantella costume, choreography by George Balanchine, 1964

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Patricia Wilde and Andre Prokovsky in Raymonda posing in front of fountain in plaza at Lincoln Center, choreography by George Balanchine, 1965

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

Program from the 1967 revival of South Pacific which played at the New York State Theatre……

NYPL
NYPL

….starring Florence Henderson as Nellie Forbush! Here she is with Richard Rodgers and Georgio Tozzi (who played Emile de Becque).

NYPL
NYPL

The plaza at Lincoln Center is always a place where surprises greet visitors. Here’s an image from a couple years ago of a video installation which sat in front of the fountain:

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And a couple years ago they hosted the premiere of Game of Thrones. With a life-size dragon!

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Martin Scorsese! He introduced a screening of his film The Age of Innocence at the New York Film Festival.

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Edwin Booth and the Players Club, New York’s home for high drama

PODCAST The thrilling tale of Edwin Booth and the marvelous social club he created for the acting profession

Edwin Booth was the greatest actor of the Gilded Age, a superstar of the theater who entertained millions over his long career. In this podcast, we present his extraordinary career, the tragedies that shaped his life (on stage and off), and the legacy of his cherished Players Club, the fabulous Stanford White-designed Gramercy Park social club for actors, artists and their admirers.

The Booths were a precursor to the Barrymores, an acting family who were as famous for their personal lives as they were for their dramatic roles.  Younger brother John Wilkes Booth would horrify the nation when he assassinated Abraham Lincoln in April of 1865, and Edwin would briefly retire from the stage, fearing his career was over.

But an outpouring of love would bring him back to the spotlight and the greasepaint. From then on, Booth would be known as the most respected actor in the United States.

Booth would give back to the theatrical community with the formation of the Players Club which officially made its debut on New Year’s Eve 1888. In this show, we’ll take you on a tour of this exclusive destination for film and theatrical icons, including a look at the upstairs bedroom where Booth died, still preserved exactly as it looked on that fateful day in 1893.

Our thanks to Nicole and Patrick Kelly of Top Dog Tours NYC for giving us  a tour of this extraordinary place!

 

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #216: EDWIN BOOTH AND THE PLAYERS CLUB

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

nypl-digitalcollections-510d47d9-f04f-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99-001-w

John Wilkes, Edwin and Junius Booth performing Julius Caesar.

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Edwin Booth and his daughter Edwina, photo taken by Mathew Brady, circa 1864

Courtesy George Eastman House
Courtesy George Eastman House

 

Images from a commemorative book (published in 1866) of Booth’s 100 nights of Hamlet at the Winter Garden.

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In the library of the Players Club, picture dated 1895

NYPL
NYPL
NYPL
NYPL

Further interiors of the Players Club, c. 1895, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York:

MCNY/Byron Co.
MCNY/Byron Co.
MCNY/Byron Co.
MCNY/Byron Co.
MCNY/Byron Co.
MCNY/Byron Co.

 

And some from 1935 of the barroom and billiard room downstairs (also courtesy MCNY):

16 Gramercy Park South. Interior, The Player's Club with Connelly, barkeeper
16 Gramercy Park South. Interior, The Player’s Club with Connelly, barkeeper
16 Gramercy Park South. The Players Club. Interior, view of playroom and bar, before alterations
16 Gramercy Park South. The Players Club. Interior, view of playroom and bar, before alterations
16 Gramercy Park South. The Players Club. Interior, view of playroom and bar, before alterations
16 Gramercy Park South. The Players Club. Interior, view of playroom and bar, before alterations

The exterior of the club (image dated 1895) with its distinctive balcony where members would enjoy an evening gazing out of the park, drinking a brandy or a flute of champagne.

NYPL
NYPL

 

MCNY/Byron Co.
MCNY/Byron Co.

Edwin Booth Grossman, Booth’s grandson, who became a painter.

NYPL
NYPL

Some pictures of our visit to the Players Club from last week —

Portraits of members, past and future. Two very recent members are featured here — Martha Plimpton and Jimmy Fallon!

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A framed bulletin from Booth’s Theatre on 23rd Street:

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Up the winding staircase to Booth’s bedroom….

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Angela Lansbury awaits us on the landing!img_0835

Theatrical props adorn every shelf of the club.

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Humphrey Bogart hangs in the hallway. Lauren Bacall, by the way, also  has a portrait hanging near the billiard table.

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Inside the dark theatrical library, one of the greatest collections of theater history volumes in the world.

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Finally, inside Booth’s living quarters! On the table sits a mold of Edwin’s hand holding that of his daughter Edwina.img_0890

The bed where Edwin Booth died, and a smaller bed where his daughter kept next to him in his final moments.

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For more information on tours of the Players Club, visit Top Dog Tours NYC.  And visit the Players website for more information about membership and its history

The first Shakespeare performance, recorded by Edwin Booth

The plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare, as the finest examples of the English written word, were also the first recorded sounds ever made.  The first recording ever made at Alexander Graham Bell‘s Volta Laboratory in Washington DC in 1881 was that of Bell’s very own voice reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Here’s another recording of Bell’s voice from 1885, running through a series of numbers as a sort of ‘test pattern’ for Bell’s new Graphophone:

But Bell, visionary and genius, was no actor.  The first audio of Shakespeare performance by an actor — the greatest actor, in fact — Edwin Booth, also known among the creative set in New York for The Players Club in Gramercy Park.

The recordings were made in Chicago in March 1890, of Hamlet and Othello (heard below):

Booth has a couple tie-ins to the subject of our last podcast, the Astor Place Riot.  He was named for the early American tragedian Edwin Forrest whose rivalry with the British actor William Macready incited the bloody conflict at the crossroads of Broadway and the Bowery on May 10, 1849.

And, of course, Edwin Booth has a serious connection with another 19th century theater tragedy — the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Edwin’s brother (and acting partner) John Wilkes Booth.  The assassin was actually known for his own aggressive version of Othello; during one performance, he almost strangled the life out of the actress playing Desdemona!

Listen to Edwin Booth’s recorded performance.  You’re listening to the world’s most well-regarded actor of the 19th century.  He’s at the end of his career here.  One year later, in 1891, he would give his last performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In the role of Hamlet, naturally.

The recordings, using Thomas Edison’s equipment, were never meant for public performance, but rather at the behest of his daughter Edwina.

An ode to the early Bronx film industry

In 1910, D.W. Griffith made one of first films ever produced in Hollywood, CA, appropriately called In Old California. Before then, film production companies were scattered throughout the United States, with two of the most successful based here in New York City.

The American Vitagraph Company, originally located at the Morse Building on 140 Nassau Street, made film shorts on the roof before moving to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Midwood in 1906. Vitagraph is best known for producing a five-part serial on The Life of Moses strung together to make what some call the first ever feature length motion picture.

More influential, however, was probably Edison Studios, the film company owned by inventor Thomas Edison. With principal studios in the New Jersey town West Orange — and original laboratories in Menlo Park (now Edison, NJ) — Edison eventually set his sights on a Manhattan studio.

He initially moved into the heart of the city in 1901, in a studio at 41 East 21st Street. Such a move made sense at the time; movies were only a few minutes long, essentially just filmed sequences of activities, and had no sound. A small studio smack in the center of New York would not have been disturbed by the bustle of the city.

With the growth into narrative films — longer movies with elaborate sets and casts — Edison needed to expand into a larger space and in 1908 moved production to a warehouse in the Bronx, at Decatur Avenue and Oliver Place, sandwiched between the Grand Concourse and the New York Botanical Garden.

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“The Edison Studio is said to be one of the finest and largest of its kind in the world,” reported [the theatrical trade paper] The Dramatic Mirror. “The building itself is 60 by 100 feet, built of concrete, iron and glass. The scenic end of the studio, corresponding to the stage in a theatre, except that it is not raised is 60 by 60 feet and 40 feet high. Here the scenes for film productions that cannot be made with natural outdoor backgrounds are painted and set.”

Its glass enclosure was especially revolutionary for the day, allowing for a diversity of film presentations.  Of a film called While John Bolt Slept, the clearly-not-unbiased Edison Kinetogram journal said in 1913: “The scene in the tenement alley is a wonderful example of the realistic effect which can be obtained in the Studio. Even the ‘fan’ of long standing would hardly believe that the scene was done under the great glass of the Bronx Studio.”

Inside the Bronx Edison Studios:

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It was at this new Bronx studio in 1910 that Edison’s company produced one of its greatest works, the very first film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shot in a week — rather lengthy for a film shoot in those days — the loose adaptation featured Charles Ogle as the famed monster.

Believe it or not, the film began production on January 17, 1910, and was released by March of that year! Since there just weren’t that many movies houses in 1910, a film release constituted about 40 copies which were distributed around the country, then returned several months later.

The film was reportedly lost forever before a single negative was found and restored in the 1970s. I present to you the Bronx-made psycho-horror masterpiece in all its glory:

 

Unfortunately this glorious studio was destroyed long before the film industry moved out to California, gutted by fire on March 28, 1914. The glass ceiling, shattered during the blaze, proved quite a danger to fire fighters.  Two men were cut by flying glass though no one was seriously injured, a miracle considering that over a hundred actors had been working there the previous night.

Cringe as you read the damage report from the New York Evening World:

Thousands of dollars worth of cameras, scenery, costumes and properties were burned, as was all the film so far used in the making of a spectacle to be called The Battle of Mobile Bay.” Other films worth $100,000 including original films of Mayor Gaynor and Andrew Carnegie, stored in fireproof vaults, were saved.”

Edison was not alone in finding inspiration in the Bronx.  Biograph Studios briefly (from 1913 to 1915) opened a studio at East 175th Street and Marmion Avenue just north of Crotona Park.

The building would later claim a greater connection to Hollywood int the 1935s when it was transformed into Gold Medal Studios, an early film and television production company. (Below: The unspectacular exterior)

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Truly exciting for residents of the Bronx was that these studios often plucked random people off the street to serve as extras in their films.

 

This article reprinted from a blog posting on January 10 2011.

Joseph Papp vs. Robert Moses: The saga of Shakespeare in the Park

PODCAST REWIND The fascinating story of the Public Theater and Joseph Papp’s efforts to bring Shakespeare to the people. (Episode #85)

What started in a tiny East Village basement grew to become one of New York’s most enduring summer traditions, Shakespeare in the Park, featuring world class actors performing the greatest dramas of the age. But another drama was brewing just as things were getting started. It’s Robert Moses vs. Shakespeare! Joseph Papp vs. the city!

ALSO: Learn how the Public Theater got off the ground and helped save an Astor landmark in the process.

THIS SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY RELEASED ON JUNE 18, 2009 — MANY, MANY YEARS BEFORE LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA AND ‘HAMILTON’ HIT THE PUBLIC STAGE

THIS IS A SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED PODCAST!  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#84), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed on iTunes or directly from our host page.

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

And now I present some of the fantastic photographs from the Billy Rose Division of the New York Public Library.

From the 1971 Shakespeare In The Park production of Cymbeline, with Belvedere Castle standing out in the background.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

A photo of Joseph Papp in the Navy (he’s the second one from the left), 1942.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Papp in from of the Decorate Theater, under construction in 1960.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Joseph Papp with Elizabeth Swados and Meryl Streep in a Public Theater production of Alice In Concert.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

The ‘mobile theater’ of the New York Shakespeare Festival, pictured here in 1972.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Theater at the East River Amphitheater: The Taming Of The Shrew with Colleen Dewhurst, 1956

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The Merchant of Venice, 1962

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The set from Love’s Labours Lost, performed at the Delacorte in 1965:

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The city peeks over top of the sets of 1985’s Henry V.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

A vivid battle scene from 1991’s Henry IV Part 1.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Beyond Hamilton: A flurry of new stage shows take on Robert Moses, Black Crook, Wild Party and more

A string of New York City history related shows is hitting the stage this summer and fall, bringing interesting new interpretations to well-known historical events or revitalizing forgotten old shows in curious ways.  I’ve had so many recommended to me in the past couple weeks that I thought I’d share the list for those of you who prefer to see a historical tale brought to life at less than Hamilton: the Musical prices.  In fact, you can grab tickets to all these shows for half the price of one Broadway show ticket:

Di-Goldene-Kale

CURRENTLY PLAYING

THE GOLDEN BRIDE

You can find a glimpse of New York’s old Yiddish theater world currently playing at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, courtesy the National Yiddish Theater.

“With music by famed Yiddish composer Joseph Rumshinsky, libretto by Frieda Freiman and lyrics by Louis Gilrod, this long-running popular romantic comedy premiered in 1923 and was revived consistently and presented internationally through the 1940’s, but was lost to time following the Second World War. In 1984, Dr. Michael Ochs, former head of the music library at Harvard unearthed an original vocal score and manuscript for Di Goldene Kale and spent a number of years translating, researching and reconstructing this nearly-forgotten treasure.”

Ticket details here. The show runs through August 28.

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PLAYING NEXT WEEK

DEMENTIA AMERICANA

The Fringe Festival, beginning this Friday and now in its 20th year, always offers up a buffet of productions that are earnest, captivating, hilarious, head-scratching and oftentimes strange.  Fans of our podcast on the murder of Stanford White may want to explore Dementia Americana, a depiction of the tragic events which led to the tragedy in 1906.

“Sex! Murder! Insanity! John Philip Sousa! All this and more in a darkly comic and appallingly relevant play that explores the upsetting and true events surrounding Evelyn Nesbit, Harry K Thaw, and the 1906 murder of famed architect Stanford White.”

Get your tickets here. The show runs August 14, 19, 21, 24, and 26.

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CURIOUSITIES

From Deaths Head Theatrical — the folks who brought you seances at the Morris-Jamel Mansion (!) — comes a truly mysterious experience:

“The year is 1936, the country is in the throes of the Great Depression.  Times are hard and people are desperate.  Though illegal, secret traveling sideshows were ever popular distractions.  These exclusive gatherings would take place in secret locations all over the country, often in rented houses to avoid the eye of the police.  Professor Mysterium invites you to join him for an night you will never forget at a secret location in Manhattan.

The exclusive event will only welcome 50 patrons per night to the secret sideshow.  Tickets are $50 and include 2 drinks at the bar before and during the event.  Audience members are encouraged to come in 1930’s attire.  Doors open promptly at 7:30pm and the event begins at 8pm.”

TWO NIGHTS ONLY — August 21 and 22! Book your tickets now.

PLAYING NEXT MONTH

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DEAD SHOT MARY

I’m shocked that the story of Mary A. Shanley, New York city police detective, has not been turned into a movie or a television show by now. (You can read my blog post from 2010 about her dramatic exploits.) A new off-Broadway play Dead Shot Mary seeks to rectify her egregious absence from pop culture.

DEAD SHOT MARY about the NYPD’s pioneering female detective runs Off Broadway, September 9 – October 15

 “A pioneer for women in law enforcement, Mary Shanley joined the NYPD in 1931, quickly becoming a Gotham all-star and tabloid sensation. During her 30-year career, she worked undercover to achieve a staggering 1000 career arrests, became the fourth woman in history to make detective 1st grade, and then nearly lost it all. Capturing her at a major crossroads of career, identity, and love — her most elusive culprit of all — DEAD SHOT MARY grapples with the legend of this trail blazer, a maverick, and a true New York original.”

The show debuts on September 9th and runs through October. Visit their website for more details or here to order tickets.

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WILD PARTY

A boozy revival from B-Side Productions (the terrific Jasper Grant was our musical director at last year’s 54 Below event with The Ensemblist), luxuriating in a 1920s decadent Manhattan party. Based on a 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure Marsh with the line: “Queenie was a blonde and her age stood still/And she danced twice a day in vaudeville. ”

From September 6 to the 17. More information here.

 

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THE BLACK CROOK

The Black Crook, considered the very first Broadway musical, is a strange curiosity of the Gilded Age, a show from 1866 that seems hard to imagine today.   Back in 2007, I wrote the following description:  “Young Rodolphe is enslaved by a sorceror Hertzog, who must grant the Devil the soul of one innocent every New Years Eve. Rodolphe saves a white dove from peril which just happens to be a good witch in disguise — Stalacta, Fairy Queen of the Golden Realm — who rescues him and sends all the bad guys straight to Hell. Damn it, why hasnt this thing been revived?”

Nine years later, it is indeed being revived! If you are a history AND a musical nut, I’m assuming your head just exploded right now.

“On September 12, 2016, The Black Crook will celebrate its 150th anniversary, marking 150 years of the American Musical. From the rubble of the Civil War, The Black Crook emerged taking an entire country by storm; an unprecedented commercial juggernaut that contributed, whether first musical or no, to a popular melting-pot entertainment that blended art both high and low. The Black Crook is an origin story for the spectacle that is America, and 150 years after the fact, it will be exhumed once again.

The show pulls a little bit of a Shuffle Along! trick, blending the original music with a “behind the scenes” about the show’s playwright Charles M. Barras. Performances begin September 19 at the Abrons Art Center in the Lower East Side, and runs through October 7th. More information here.

AND FINALLY…..

ROBERT MOSES ARRIVES — IN OCTOBER

BLDZR: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MOSES!

The Robert Moses rock musical is almost here. I’ll just let the show speak for itself. It begins in October. Details here.

Mr. Wonderful: A 90th birthday tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.

Frank Sinatra‘s 100th birthday is December 12 but you probably didn’t know that his fellow Rat Pack cool cat Sammy Davis Jr. was also born on the second week of December, 90 years ago today in Harlem.

 

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Davis was born on December 8, 1925, at Harlem Hospital on Lenox Avenue and 135th Street and his fate would lean closely to the popular entertainment venues nearby. His mother was a chorus girl who worked for many years at the Apollo Theater.

My first birthday was celebrated in a specially-contoured crib made up of  suitcases in a dressing room at the old Hippodrome Theater in New York.” — Ebony Magazine interview, 1960

From his 1990 obit:  “The showman was born in a Harlem tenement, grew up in vaudeville from the age of 3 and never went to school. His talents as a mime, comedian, trumpet player, drummer, pianist and vibraphonist as well as singer and dancer were shaped from his childhood and made him one of the nation’s first black performers to gain mainstream acclaim.”

Courtesy Global Grind
Courtesy Global Grind

 

Photo by Bob East
Photo by Bob East

In performance in the early 1950s:
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The above picture may be taken at the Copacabana. In my very old podcast on the history of the Copacabana, you may remember the tale of Davis’s performance that was heckled by a group of bigoted bowlers. Unfortunately for the bowlers, in the audience were Yankees legends Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford who gave them a good dusting up.

Sammy Davis Jr. on the 1960 Frank Sinatra Timex Show singing a song from Porgy and Bess:

Davis, 1966, on the Perry Como Show for NBC

Davis, 1966, on the Perry Como Show for NBC
Davis, 1966, on the Perry Como Show for NBC

 

Davis had his own NBC variety show in 1966 which ran 14 episodes. It filmed at Rockefeller Center.  The March 11th broadcast featured the Supremes:

supremes

Diahann Carroll appeared on Sammy Davis’ variety show in 1966, so he returned the favor ten years later for her own variety show. (I love that people had variety shows!)

 

Check out the Getty Images archives for a lot of amazing photos of Davis with other icons. Here’s one from 1989 with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Davis would die the following year of complications from throat cancer,

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Getty Images. Credit: Kevin Winter

And finally, his rendition of ‘Music of the Night’ from The Phantom of the Opera from 1988,  one of last performances.

 

Stage Magic: Oh-What-A-Beautiful History of the St. James Theatre

On Sunday The Bowery Boys join up with The Ensemblist to present a special cabaret event at 54 Below — a tribute to the great St. James Theatre!

Perhaps some of you may be asking — why do a live show about a individual theater?

The St. James Theatre (246 West 44th Street) was prominently featured as the principal set in this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone.

The underlying theme of the film is that ‘serious’ theater was a reinvigorating, respectable medium that could renew the career of Riggan Thomson (Keaton) whose Hollywood successes have diminished his credibility.

Below:  The exterior and entrance of the St. James in character for Birdman.  More images at Eric Helmin / Design + Media who worked on the film’s terrific graphic design can be found at his website. He’s also worked on The Knick and Inside Llewyn Davis so we’re clearly fans of his work.

Courtesy Eric Helmin / Design + Media
Courtesy Eric Helmin / Design + Media
Courtesy Eric Helmin / Design + Media
Courtesy Eric Helmin / Design + Media

 

The St. James was one of a handful of stages which estabished the supremacy of the American theater. To film Birdman here was to set the bar near-impossibly high for the lead character.  The history of the St. James runs parallel to Broadway’s own dramatic highs and lows. It was here that Hello Dolly!, Oklahoma, The King and I and The Producers all made their New York debuts.

Here’s a selection of other quirky facts about the St James Theatre, some big, some small, some weird:

1) The plot of land where the St. James Theater stands today — that’s 246 West 44th Street, between the Helen Hayes Theatre and John’s Pizzeria —  was home to the first incarnation of Sardi’s Restaurant. Called the Little Restaurant (or Sardi’s Sidewalk Cafe), this first incarnation of the famous theatrical eatery opened in 1921.  A frequent sight was that of proprietor Melchiore Pio Vincenzo Sardi Sr. standing in the doorway, flipping a twenty-dollar gold coin.  In 1927, the restaurant moved to its present location – just a couple doors down from the St. James.

Below: The outdoor garden at Sardi’s original spot

garden

 

2) What does the St. James Theatre have in common with the Chelsea Piers and Grand Central Terminal? They were all designed by the same architectural firm Warren and Wetmore. But when it opened with its first show — a George M. Cohan romp called The Merry Malones — it was called Erlanger’s Theater, named for one half of the theatrical production juggernaut of the 1920s — Klaw & Erlanger. (By the way, there was also a Klaw Theatre just a block away.)

Below: Anthony Dumas sketches from 1932 of the Erlanger Theatre and the Little Theatre (later the Helen Hayes). Later that year the name would switch to the St. James in tribute to a famous London theater of that same name.

Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

3) In 1943 the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma made its debut here, changing the face of musical theater forever. But, many years before, the St. James very nearly celebrated the debut of another major epoch-making musical– Showboat. It was even considered for the inaugural performance at the St. James! However its producer Florenz Ziegfeld wasn’t ready in time, and it eventually debuted at Ziegfeld’s own theater on December 27, 1927.

Below: A dance-filled play presented by the Federal Theatre Project called Trojan Incident played for a limited run in 1938

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

4) The St. James was a vital component of the so-called ‘Golden Age of Broadway’, delivering debut musicals such as Pal Joey, Where’s Charley?, The King and I and The Pajama Game. Countless successful Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan productions graced the stage as did original ballets and even the first play production of Richard Wright’s Native Son in 1941.

So the place has gotta be loaded, right? During the run of Oklahoma, burglars broke into the St. James to steal the evening’s hefty receipts, only to be foiled when they were unable to open the main safe. “They escaped with a small amount of change,” said the Times.

5) In 1958, the theater went through a massive renovation, almost a rebuilding really.  Most of the interior was replaced with modern theatrical amenities like a state-of-the-art sound system and air conditioning unit.  The lighting equipment was now “completely enclosed in Plexiglass” and “the asbestos curtain has a mural-like design on it.” [source]

Courtesy NYC Architecture
Courtesy NYC Architecture

 

6) A peculiar set of shows hit the St. James Theatre during the 1970s, most notably a Nashville-themed jamboree called Broadway Opry ’79 featuring a rotating roster of country music greats! Sadly it played only two shows after four previews — the first featuring Don Gibson, Floyd Cramer and Tanya Tucker, the second Waylon Jennings and the Crickets.

7) A lot of shows celebrating New York City history have played at the St. James, and in  1980  came a tribute to the city’s greatest showman — P. T. Barnum. The musical Barnum, with music by Cy Coleman, featured the subjects of real-life Barnum spectacles like Joice Heth, Jenny Lind and Tom Thumb.  Barnum died in 1891, many years before any theater would have made an appearance above 42nd Street.

Below: Jim Dale in Barnum

dale

8) In 2005 an extraordinary feedback loop occurred at the St James Theatre when the musical movie version of The Producers (itself based on a non-musical film) was filmed at the St. James on the very set of the Broadway theater version.  Said one of the extras from the film, standing on stage that day  “Basically, I’m supposed to applaud the play-within-the-play in a movie about a play that was based on a movie,” [source]

9) The past ten years at the St. James have been rewarding indeed — with musical versions of rock albums (American Idiot), children’s books (How The Grinch Stole Christmas), Woody Allen movies (Bullets Over Broadway), and even one Shakespearean comic farce (the current Something Rotten!)

A few lucky individuals even got to see Barry Manilow here in a one-man concert show in 2013. From one review:  “The 1-hour-50-minute concert, performed without an intermission, revealed Mr. Manilow’s brand to be intact. That brand might be described as musical chicken soup for the soul.”

 (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

 

10) With Birdman‘s big win at the 2015 Academy Awards, the St. James Theatre becomes the second Broadway theater prominently featured in a Best Picture winner.   All About Eve, Best Picture winner in 1951, features scenes from the John Golden Theatre on West 45th Street.  The Great Ziegfeld also won Best Picture (in 1937) but it was all filmed in Hollywood.

 

 

Wanna know more about the history of the St. James Theatre with an overview of Times Square and Broadway history — all while festively dining and drinking in a superb cabaret setting? Come to our show this Sunday!

Tickets are still available for our two shows at 7pm and 9:30pm. 

To get your tickets, please visit the 54 Below site here or click on the links below

Sun, Sep 13 7:00pm Doors: 5:15pm $30/35/40/70 Tickets
Sun, Sep 13 9:30pm Doors: 8:45pm $25/30/35/60 Tickets

 

The good folks over at the Broadway musical Something Rotten! are kindly offering a discount code for tickets.

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Podcast Rewind: Florenz Ziegfeld and the Ziegfeld Follies

PODCAST Cue the dancing girls, lower the props, raise the curtain — we’re taking on Broadway’s most famous producer, Florenz Ziegfeld! We give you a brief overview of the first days of Broadway, then sweep into Ziegfeld’s life — from his early successes (both professional and personal) to his famous Follies. And find out how the current Ziegfeld Theatre, a movie house, relates to the original Ziegfeld Theatre, home of Broadway’s first ‘real’ musical, Show Boat. 

This was originally released on January 16, 2009.

NOW WITH BONUS CONTENT: Almost ten minutes of newly recorded material in 2015, adding a couple more interesting details about Anna Held, the current Ziegfeld movie theater and the life of the last living Ziegfeld girl!

A special illustrated version of the podcast on the Ziegfeld Follies (Episode #74) is now available on our NYC History Archive feed, via  iTunes or other podcast distribution services.  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#74), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed, on iTunes, directly from our host page, or directly via our RSS feed.

 

Florenz Ziegfeld and Anna Held on a quick carriage-ride jaunt in 1904

MNY30467
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

Ziegfeld’s first star — the strongman Eugen Sandow. As with his later female dancers in the Follies, Ziegfeld often posed his stars in scantily-clad ‘classical’ pose. As long as they didn’t move, this sort of tableaux vivant was not considered obscene!

eugen

 

 

Anna Held — Ziegfeld’s lover and biggest star — posing for ‘A Parlor Match’

anna

 

The original Ziegfeld Theatre at 54th Street and Sixth Avenue, taken in 1927

 

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

A few more notable Ziegfeld girls — like Kay Laurell (photo taken in 1915)

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

Anna Pennington, photo taken 1910-1915

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

Louise Alexander, later Mrs. Louise Strang, photo taken 1908

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

Unidentified showgirl from the Follies of 1917

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Unidentified performer in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1931

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Billie Burke in 1912, in some play called The Mind-The-Paint Girl

Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

 

The Bowery Boys — Live on Broadway! (well, for one night anyway)

Many of you have asked if we were ever going to do a live event in the near future. Finally you can see us live this September for one night only AND on Broadway!

The Bowery Boys are pairing up with The Ensemblist podcast (hosted by wonderful Mo Brady and Nikka Graff Lanzarone) to present a one of a kind event — the history of an iconic Broadway theater featuring musical performances by people who have performed there.

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The star of our show is the St. James Theatre, a Broadway stage which opened in 1927 on the spot of the original Sardi’s Restaurant. It was here that many great Broadway musicals originated including Oklahoma!, The King and I, The Pajama Game and Hello Dolly.  Most recently the theater was prominently featured in the Oscar-winning film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) with Michael Keaton and Emma Stone.

We’ll be discussing some of the history of this classic theater amid an entire roster of Broadway singers performing music that the St. James made famous.  The line-up is tbd at this point but we’ll present the names of the performers as soon as we have them.

This is going to be a cabaret extravaganza — so naturally the show will be held at one of New York’s greatest cabaret spaces — 54 Below (254 W. 54th Street).  This is the basement of the former Studio 54. Maybe we’ll dress up like Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger?!

This is a ONE NIGHT ONLY event— two shows on Sunday, September 13, 2015.  Visit their website for more information about the show and CLICK HERE to get your tickets.

See you on Broadway!  And if you’re a fan of theater and the performing arts, subscribe to The Ensemblist podcast.

 

Below: The cast of Oklahoma! at the St. James Theatre (1943) and Edward Norton and Emma Stone on the roof of the St. James.

Courtesy the Billy Rose Collection, New York Public Library
Courtesy the Billy Rose Collection, New York Public Library

 

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Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures