Thursday, August 11, 2011

1951: 60 Years Ago on Broadway

Recently, a good friend of mine celebrated her 60th birthday.  Together, we have seen a number of Broadway shows, and we frequently chat about shows that were all the rage in the 15 year gap between our births.  (I know...we are weird that way...)  Anyway, I got to thinking about her milestone birthday and her love of Broadway.

Here is a sample of the shows that were playing on the Great White Way 60 years ago this week!

  • The great Ethel Merman was at the Imperial Theatre in Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam.  A satire about a woman ambassador to a small fictional country and America's constant pumping of millions of dollars to every needy country but never spending it at home.  How timely, even today.
  • It was the last weeks of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Ziegfeld Theatre.  The show made a star out of Carol Channing and the Jule Styne score featured the famous "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend."
  • Robert Alda and Vivian Blaine were starring in the original production of Guys and Dolls at the 46th Street Theatre.  Today, it is a classic, but back then people were just getting to know the Frank Loesser score that includes such standards as "Luck Be a Lady," "If I Were a Bell, " "Adelaide's Lament," and "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat."
  • Audiences were delighting to the exotic world of Siam and the intoxicating romance between The King and I at the St. James Theatre, and starring Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brenner.  "Shall We Dance?" was a hit, and Jerome Robbins' dazzling staging of "Small House of Uncle Thomas" was the talk of Broadway.
  • The title says it all: Judy Garland at the Palace: "Two A-Day".
  • The Wizard of Oz fans could also take in Bert Lahr (and Delores Gray) in Two on the Aisle the Mark Hellinger Theatre.  Talk about a creative team: Abe Burrows directed, Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the book and lyrics for Jule Styne's score.
  • Theatre legend Shirley Booth was playing the Alvin Theatre in the musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with a book and direction by George Abbott.
  • Playgoers had many dramas and comedies to choose from, too, including the Tony Award-winning Best Play of 1951, Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo.  Stars Eli Wallach and Maureen Stapleton both won Tonys for their work as well.
  • Jose Ferrer directed the war drama Stalag 17, written by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinsky, both prisoners of the actual prison camp in Austria.  The show ran an impressive 427 performances at the 48th Street Theatre.

60 years from now, I wonder what shows people will write about.  Probably The Phantom of the Opera, and maybe about stars like Bernadette Peters.  And probably the record setting budget of Spider-Man:Turn Off the Dark.  Oh, who knows?  Only time will tell.


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