Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Public Theater: Off-Broadway to Broadway, Again and Again

With the announcement yesterday that the Al Pacino-led production of The Merchant of Venice would have a limited run this fall/winter at the Broadhurst Theatre, and the announcement last week confirming that Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson would be transferring to the Jacobs Theatre for a commercial run, The Public Theater continues a long tradition of bringing its off-Broadway shows to Broadway.  From its downtown theater space to its outdoor Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, a wide variety of plays, musicals, one-man shows and important revivals have made the transfer to the Great White Way.

Top: The Public Theater
Bottom: The Delacorte Theatre
Legendary producer Joseph Papp began what is now known as the Public Theater back in 1955, when he began the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park, offering free Shakespeare to New Yorkers for the first time.  Later, he created New York's first travelling theater.  Among the Public Theatre's many achievements, it was also among the very first professional theatres to employ "color blind casting," with no less than James Earl Jones appearing in The Cherry Orchard.  What today is common practice and rarely even noticed, was quite avante garde and controversial.  The Public Theater still operates the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, along with it's flagship space, the former Astor Public Library.

Coming This Season: The Merchant of Venice and
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Some facts:
  • The Public Theater has been awarded 42 Tonys, 40 Drama Desks and 4 Pulitzer Prizes among many awards.
  • It won the Special Tony Award 3 times: 1958, 1970 and 1984, when A Chorus Line became the longest-running show in Broadway history.
  • The Drama Desk Awards presented the company a special achievement award in 2005, in honor of its 50th anniversary.

A book about the man who started it all:
Joseph Papp

23 of its plays, musicals, revivals and one-person shows were either nominated and/or won the Tony for Best in the Category.  The winners were:
  • 1972: Best Play, Sticks and Bones
  • 1972: Best Musical: Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • 1973: Best Play, That Championship Season
  • 1976: Best Musical, A Chorus Line
  • 1981: Best Reproduction of a Musical: The Pirates of Penzance
  • 1986: Best Musical: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • 1993: Best Play: Angels in America: Millennium Approaches
  • 1994: Best Play: Angels in America: Perestroika
  • 2002: Best Theatrical Event: Elaine Stritch: At Liberty!
  • 2003: Best Play: Take Me Out
  • 2009: Best Revival: Hair
Some of its most notable productions also include: The Normal Heart, The Threepenny Opera (Raul Julia), The Colored Museum, Hamlet (Kevin Kline), For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, Bring on 'Da Noise/Bring on 'Da Funk, The Wild Party, Runaways, Topdog/Underdog, and Caroline, or Change.

With these two new critically acclaimed shows, that award-winning tradition is bound to continue!

Comments: Leave one here or email me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com.
Questions: Ask me anything at http://www.formspring.me/. Look under "jkstheatrescene" or "Jeff Kyler."


  1. Well, let's not just paint the rosy side of the equation. Yes, we owe some great work to the Public. However, even after the enormous royalties of A Chorus Line, the Public almost went belly up after transferring financial disasters such as Caroline and Change, The Wild Party, and Drood (not to mention later unsuccessful shows such as Passing Strange). I really don't see how Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson can become a success on Broadway...I don't think it belongs there and I caution the Public against over extending itself. There's a new trend of non-profits suddenly becoming commercial producers and that can be dangerous when non-profits only produce name playwrights with starry casts. It's becoming more and more difficult for unknown playwrights and actors to break into the scene.

  2. A good and valid point. Interestingly, your point about unknown playwrights and actors (which I generally agree with)flies in the face of most of the examples you give. At the time they were produced, Jeanine Tesori and Michael John LaChuisa were hardly household names, albeit with previous moderate successes. ( I mean of the zillions of peoople who loved Thoroughly Modern Millie very few would even know she had a thing to do with it!) Rupert Holmes made his playwrighting debut with Drood, and I'm pretty sure Stew was a new name when Passing Strange was produced. And I bet there are only a hand few of people who know who Benjamin Walker, Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers are, and yet they are breaking "into the scene" by having BBAJ produced.

    The upcoming Public season seems relatively devoid of known writers, too...



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