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Home Page> News & Events> Being at the Barrymore Theatre for The Band's Visit yesterday made me think about the history of musicals that have been in that house over the years

Being at the Barrymore Theatre for The Band's Visit yesterday made me think about the history of musicals that have been in that house over the years

Being at the Barrymore Theatre for The Band's Visit yesterday made me think about the history of musicals that have been in that house over the years. The Band's Visit is the Barrymore's 25th musical since 1928 when the theater opened.
Most recently in 2012, there was Chaplin, the original musical about Charlie Chaplin that had one of the last books by Tom Meehan, and star performances from Rob McClure (who was Tony nominatedin the title role), Jenn Colella, Christiane Noll and Erin Mackey.
Before that, in 2006, there was the most recent, Tony Award-winning Company revival, the John Doyle-directed, actors-playing-instruments, Raul Esparza giving the performance of a lifetime, retelling of the Sondheim-Furth tale about Bobby baby, that was filmed for Great Performances.
Immediately prior to that, in 2006, the Barrymore got Ring of Fire, the Johnny Cash jukebox musical with Beth Malone and Jarrod Emick singing the title song, directed by Richard Maltby Jr.
In 1999, Putting It Together opened at the Barrymore, bringing the likes of Carol Burnett and her understudy Kathie Lee Gifford into the 47th Street space as they appeared in Broadway's Sondheim revue between Side By Side By Sondheim (1977) and Sondheim on Sondheim (2010).
The Life came to the Barrymore in 1997, the longest-running show on this list so far - and the first on this list so far to be nominated for Best Musical. Chuck Cooper and Lillias White took home awards, for this show about a pre-1997 42nd Street and all of the prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers and others who inhabited it.
More than 10 years earlier, in 1983, the Barrymore greeted another Best Musical nominee: Baby. With a modern story about three couples each navigating their journey to have a baby, and a bouncing, soaring score by Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire, Baby let Liz Callaway sing "The Story Goes On" on a Broadway stage and the Barrymore has held echoes of her legendary mix belt ever since.
The year before in 1982, a high school flashback and reunion came to the Barrymore, when is there life after high school? stopped by, and Craig Carnelia's score of gems was heard on Broadway, from "The Kid Inside" to "Nothing Really Happened".
In 1977 came the Barrymore's biggest musical hit to date: I Love My Wife. The 857-performance run was due to the show's playful antics in telling a story about 1970s sexcapades by married couples that ended with the wholesome messaging in the title. The show had only a four person cast - the originals were Ilene Graff, Joanna Gleason, Lenny Baker, and James Naughton - but also a four-person band who were quite integrated and active in the action (a trend at the Barrymore that also includes Ring of Fire, and now The Band's Visit).
A Harry Chapin revue called The Night That Made America Famous played the Barrymore for 2 months in 1975. Harry himself appeared, as did his brothers Stephen and Tom, his father Jim playing percussion, Lynne Thigpen, Delores Hall and Gilbert Price.
In 1972, Don't Play Us Cheap!, Melvin Van Peebles' second Broadway venture, opened at the Barrymore, about an imp and a devil who try to break up a Harlem House Party. The whole time that this show, written by a black musical theatre writer and filled with black actors was playing, Don't Bother Me I Can't Cope, which also could be described as such, was playing across the street at the Edison, then a Broadway theater. A film version of Don't Play Us Cheap! was created the year after Broadway.
In 1971, Inner City, with music by Helen Miller and lyrics by Eve Merriam, parked at the Barrymore. Taglined "A Street Cantata", the show gave voice to all of the woes and joys of inner city life. With Tom O'Horgan conceiving and directing, the show was a clear descendant of the movement begun by Hair, which was still playing down the street at the Biltmore (now Friedman).
Before that in 1971 was Melvin Van Peebles' first Broadway venture and great triumph, Ain't Supposed To Die A Natural Death - a show nominated for Best Musical. It had the tagline "Tunes from Blackness" and really shook up the audience's idea of what Broadway could be, with its sharp brutal observations of daily life for black citizens.
Very different was the last musical in the Barrymore before that: Noel Coward's Sweet Potato, in 1968. It featured early career performances from Dorothy Loudon, Carole Shelley and Robert LuPone. A revue of the popular British writer's work, the show had an interesting trajectory. After a pre-Broadway tryout in Vancouver, it opened on Broadway at the Barrymore and fared poorly, closing after 44 performances. It was later reworked regionally and retitled Oh, Coward!, and then had a successful long run off-Broadway in the 1970s. But when Oh, Coward! came to Broadway in 1986, that closed quickly as well.
1960 brought a revue titled Laughs and Other Events to the Barrymore, starring Stanley Holloway, My Fair Lady's original Alfred P. Doolittle.
Before that in 1956, the Barrymore housed New Faces of 1956, the fifth of seven "New Faces" revues by Leonard Sillman that hit Broadway. Over the years, New Faces gave stars-to-be from Henry Fonda to Eartha Kitt their first roles on Broadway. This Barrymore edition was no exception, introducing Maggie Smith to the Great White Way. The shows were fast, loud, funny, satirical and filled with new talent on stage but also behind the scenes - this edition featured a sketch by Neil Simon, his second Broadway credit.
In 1950, the Barrymore was home to The Consul, by Gian-Carlo Menotti. Categorized as an opera, the show won one Tony Award: for its conductor, Lehman Engel. The show won the Pulitzer, but is not often counted in the list of musicals that have won, since by most, it is considered an opera, although it played Broadway.
The musical before that to play the Barrymore was also by Gian-Carlo Menotti: The Telephone/ The Medium, in 1947. This was two one-act operas in one evening.
In 1945, the Barrymore housed Marinka, a romantic Austrian musical - but only for a few months, after it first opened at the Winter Garden. Act two opened with a number titled "Treat A Woman Like A Drum".
From 1940 to 1942, the Barrymore had four musicals in a row, the longest musical streak to date. 1942 brought Count Me In, a revue produced by the Shuberts. Very unique for the time, the show had music and lyrics by a woman: Ann Ronell. The Barrymore somehow housed 64 actors, among them Gower Champion, Jean Arthur, and Danny Daniels.
Just prior to that, in 1941, Best Foot Forward opened at the Barrymore, a cheerful, high school-themed show that allowed director George Abbott to hire actors too young to be taken away from Broadway by the draft. A later film version starred Lucille Ball and a later off-Broadway revival was a breakthrough for Liza Minnelli.
In 1940, the original Pal Joey opened at the Barrymore. Book by John O'Hara, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Changed musicals forever. As Brooks Atkinson wrote in his Times review, "Although Pal Joey is expertly done, can you draw sweet water from a foul well?" Yes, Brooks. Or rather, "mainstream" musicals can be more than just sweet water, Brooks. From now on.
The first show in the early 1940s brigade of Barrymore musicals was Walk With Music, a Hoagy Carmichael- Johnny Mercer show that was much the opposite of Pal Joey. Walk With Music was part of the last hurrah of that 1920s musical once perfected by the Gershwins, where a hot score and hot cast and hot staging and hot jokes were all one needed to have a hot musical, sans meaningful story or characters. This one featured three gold-digging sisters who all lived happily ever after. And just 20 years later this same stage would be where a homeless black female character wailed "I'll Put A Curse On You" in Ain't Supposed To Die A Natural Death, condemning the socio-political problems of America? Yep. That's musical theatre.
We're down to what was actually the second musical to ever play the Barrymore: Knickerbocker Holiday by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill in 1938. "September Song" premiered at the Barrymore in this politically conscious musical. Knickerbocker Holiday was set in the 17th century in what is now New York, but it was an allegory warning audiences that FDR's New Deal policies were similar to what gave rise to fascism in Europe.
And then of course there was the first musical to play the Barrymore, 4 years after it opened. Gay Divorce opened in 1932, the 15th production at Broadway's Barrymore Theatre, but the first musical. The score by Cole Porter featured the hit "Night and Day". Gay Divorce was Fred Astaire's first stage venture without his sister Adele and his last Broadway appearance before leaving for Hollywood. The show, a zany tale of mistaken identity, adultery and romantic travels, is too dated to be often revived.
But nevertheless, Fred Astaire christened the Barrymore's musical future, dancing right where an Egyptian band meets a group of Israelis today.
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Update : 21-11-2017
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