overview

Opened as the Martin Beck Theater in 1924, this venue has staged multiple productions involving major LGBT performers and creators, including three big hits: The Voice of the Turtle, Grand Hotel, and Guys and Dolls. “First Lady of the Theater” Katharine Cornell also appeared in six plays here.

The venue was renamed the Al Hirschfeld Theater in 2005.

Header Photo

Credit: Sarah Sargent/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2019.

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History

When this venue was known as the Martin Beck Theater, there were three LGBT-associated productions that were enormous hits: The Voice of the Turtle (1947; opened at the Morosco Theater) by John Van Druten; Grand Hotel (1989-92), directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune (Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography Tony Awards), and with actor Michael Jeter (Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony Award); and Guys and Dolls (revival, 1992-95), with costume design by William Ivey Long, and with actor Nathan Lane. Other LGBT-associated big hits, all musicals, included On the Town (1945-46, opened at the Adelphi Theater), with music by Leonard Bernstein, choreography by Jerome Robbins, production design by Oliver Smith, and with actor Cris Alexander; Bye Bye Birdie (1960) by Michael Stewart (Best Musical Tony Award), with costume design by Miles White, and with actors Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly; Milk and Honey (1961-63) by Don Appell, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, and costume design by Miles White; Oliver (1965), with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart (Best Composer and Lyricist Tony Award); Into the Woods (1987-89), with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (Best Original Score Tony Award), and scenic design by Tony Straiges; and Kiss Me, Kate (revival, 1999-2001), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter (Best Revival of a Musical Tony Award), and costume design by Martin Packledinaz (Best Costume Design Tony Award).

Other plays here by LGBT creators included A la Carte (1927) by George Kelly; Flowers of the Forest (1935) by John Van Druten, and with actor Katharine Cornell; The Pirate (1942-43), with costume design by Miles White, and with actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne; The Corn Is Green (1943) by Emlyn Williams; A Connecticut Yankee (1943-44), with lyrics by Lorenz Hart; St. Louis Woman (1946) by Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen, and with choreography by Charles Walters; The Rose Tattoo (1951; Best Play Tony Award), with Sal Mineo, Orpheus Descending (1957), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959-60), all by Tennessee Williams; The Grass Harp (1952) by Truman Capote, with scenic and costume design by Cecil Beaton; Candide (1956-57), with music by Leonard Bernstein, scenic design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Irene Sharaff; Who Was That Lady I Saw You With? (1958), with scenic design by Rouben Ter-Arutunian; Say, Darling (1958-59, opened at the ANTA Playhouse), designed by Oliver Smith; The Ballad of the Sad Café (1963-64), based on a novella by Carson McCullers, A Delicate Balance (1966-67; Pulitzer Prize for Drama), and All Over (1971), all by Edward Albee, the second with scenic design by William Ritman, and the latter with scenic and costume design by Rouben Ter-Arutunian; Hallelujah, Baby! (1967-68) by Arthur Laurents (Best Musical Tony Award), with costume design by Irene Sharaff; Habeas Corpus (1975-76) by Alan Bennett; Happy End (1977), adapted by Michael Feingold; The Little Foxes (revival, 1981), with costume design by Florence Klotz; The Rink (1984) by Terrence McNally, with music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb; and Moon Over Buffalo (1995-96), with costume design by Bob Mackie. Strange Interlude (1963; opened at the Hudson Theater) was the first revival of Eugene O’Neill’s 1928 play, which had included an early closeted gay male character.

“First Lady of the Theater” Katharine Cornell appeared in five other plays at the Martin Beck, all staged by Guthrie McClintic: Romeo and Juliet (revival, 1934-35 and 1935-36), also with Maurice Evans, Ralph Richardson, and Tyrone Power; The Barretts of Wimpole Street (revival, 1935); Saint Joan (revival, 1936), also with Maurice Evans and Tyrone Power; Antony and Cleopatra (revival, 1947-48), for which she received the Best Actress in a Play Tony Award; and That Lady (1949-50). Other LGBT performers here included Claudette Colbert in Dynamo (1929); Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Reunion in Vienna (1931-32); Katharine Hepburn in The Lake (1933-34); Ethel Waters in Cabin in the Sky (1940-41); Tallulah Bankhead in Foolish Notion (1945); Denholm Elliott in Ring Round the Moon (1950-51); Ray Stricklyn in The Climate of Eden (1952); Charles Laughton in Major Barbara (revival, 1956); Cyril Ritchard in The Happiest Girl in the World (1961); Sandy Dennis in Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982); and Nell Carter in Annie (revival, 1997).

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