overview

The Winter Garden Theater has been home to many musicals created by members of the LGBT community over the years.

Premiering here in 1957, West Side Story had a creative team in which all of the major members were gay, lesbian, or bisexual, making it the greatest collaboration of LGBT talent in Broadway history.

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Credit: Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

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"Follies" playbill, 1970. Source: Playbill.

History

From the time of its conversion in 1910-11 from a stable into a theater for musicals, the Winter Garden Theater has hosted many productions that are indicative of the contributions made by the LGBT community to musical theater. In 1935-36, Vincente Minnelli directed three revues at the theater, including a Ziegfeld Follies. According to biographer Emanuel Levy, Minelli was openly gay while in New York, before moving to Hollywood and becoming more closeted.

From the 1950s through the 1970s many of the most important gay artists on Broadway opened shows at the Winter Garden. The most famous of these was West Side Story (1957) in which all of the major members of the creative team were gay, lesbian, or bisexual – Jerome Robbins, who directed and choreographed the show; Leonard Bernstein, who wrote the music; Arthur Laurents, the librettist; Stephen Sondheim, the lyricist; Oliver Smith, the set designer; Jean Rosenthal, the lighting designer; and Irene Sharaff, the costume designer. The male lead, Larry Kert, was also gay.

Several of those involved with West Side Story had previously or would soon work again at the Winter Garden. Bernstein’s Wonderful Town had opened at the theater in 1953. The following year Robbins directed Peter Pan (starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard), and Sondheim’s Follies (1971) and Pacific Overtures (1976) debuted here; Follies was co-directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. In 1966, Mame, one of Jerry Herman’s greatest musicals, opened at the Winter Garden. The musical was loosely based on the 1955 book Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escape by Patrick Dennis (a pseudonym for Edward Everett Tanner III).

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