Broadway's Booth Theatre Turns 100 Years Old Oct. 16
By Robert Viagas
Playbill.com offers a look back at the great shows that played the Booth Theatre since its opening in 1913.
Broadway’s Booth Theatre opened 100 years ago, Oct. 16, 1913, just a few weeks after its larger sister, the Shubert Theatre.
Dominating the uptown (45th Street) entrance to Shubert Alley, the 780-seat theatre, one of Broadway’s most intimate, has long been prized as an ideal size and location to house dramas and comedies like That Championship Season, I’m Not Rappaport and The Elephant Man—all Tony-winning Best Plays. Yet, it has also been home to a few notable musicals, including two Pulitzer Prize winners, Sunday in the Park With George and Next to Normal.
Named for Edwin Booth, the actor-brother of presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth, the theatre was built by the Shuberts in partnership with Winthrop Ames, a strong believer in the virtues of small playhouses. Ames also was responsible for the 597-seat Little Theatre (since renamed the Helen Hayes), which faces the Shubert across 44th Street.
The Booth’s current tenant is a well-reviewed revival of The Glass Menagerie starring Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto.
An elderly Jewish man found an unexpected friend while trying to protect his favorite bench in Central Park—and his daughter’s life in Herb Gardner's I’m Not Rappaport (1985). A hideously disfigured man who appears as a sideshow attraction tried to assert his humanity in The Elephant Man (1979).
Seven black women identified by seven brightly colored costumes reveal the pain of their lives in Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (1976). Blythe Danner played a young woman who has a romance with a blind man (Keir Dullea) in Butterflies Are Free (1969).
A married Midwestern businessman had an affair with a quirky New York girl in William Gibson’s play Two for the Seesaw (1958). Cyril Ritchard played a mischievous space alien who becomes fascinated with humanity in Gore Vidal’s Visit to a Small Planet (1957). Ruth Gordon gave Broadway its first taste of Dolly Gallagher Levi when the original production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker moved here from the Morosco in 1956.
In Dial 'M' for Murder (1952) a man carried out a complicated revenge plot when he discovered his wife is having an affair. Come Back Little Sheba (1950) allowed Shirley Booth to paint a picture of a woman trying to maintain what's left of her dreams while living with a chronic alcoholic of a husband. The Time of Your Life (1939) was William Saroyan’s Pulitzer-winning drama about the colorful characters who meet to drink in a San Francisco saloon.
Finishing the Hat
Audiences stayed on the edge of their Booth seats at a series of thrillers in the 1930s, including Jewel Robbery, The Fatal Alibi, Possession, Escape and Paging Danger.
The inaugural production was The Great Adventure, Arnold Bennett's drama based on his book, "Buried Alive," about an artist who pretends he is dead to help his career. The production lasted only 52 performances despite the presence of actors Janet Beecher, Lyn Harding and Guthrie McClintic.
The Other Booth
"Broadway for Bupkis"
Every Booth Show
Robert Viagas is executive editor of PlaybillEDU.com, and editor of both “The Playbill Broadway Yearbook” series and “At This Theatre.”
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