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 TurtleGrand 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.

History

When this venue was known as the Martin Beck Theater, there were four LGBT-associated productions that were enormous hits: The Voice of the Turtle (1947; opened at the Morosco Theater) by John Van DrutenMan of La Mancha (1965-68), with choreography by Jack ColeGrand 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 AlexanderBye Bye Birdie (1960) by Michael Stewart (Best Musical Tony Award), with costume design by Miles White, and with actors Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson ReillyMilk and Honey (1961-63) by Don Appell, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, and costume design by Miles WhiteOliver (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 Pakledinaz (Best Costume Design Tony Award).

Other plays here by LGBT creators included A la Carte (1927) by George KellyFlowers of the Forest (1935) by John Van Druten, and with actor Katharine CornellThe Pirate (1942-43), with costume design by Miles White, and with actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn FontanneThe Corn Is Green (1943) by Emlyn WilliamsA Connecticut Yankee (1943-44), with lyrics by Lorenz HartSt. Louis Woman (1946) by Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen, and with choreography by Charles WaltersThe Rose Tattoo (1951; Best Play Tony Award), with Sal MineoOrpheus Descending (1957), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959-60), all by Tennessee WilliamsThe Grass Harp (1952) by Truman Capote, with scenic and costume design by Cecil BeatonCandide (1956-57), with music by Leonard Bernstein, scenic design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Irene SharaffWho Was That Lady I Saw You With? (1958), with scenic design by Rouben Ter-ArutunianSay, Darling (1958-59, opened at the ANTA Playhouse), designed by Oliver SmithThe Ballad of the Sad Café (1963-64), based on a novella by Carson McCullersA 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-ArutunianHallelujah, Baby! (1967-68) by Arthur Laurents (Best Musical Tony Award), with costume design by Irene SharaffHabeas Corpus (1975-76) by Alan BennettHappy End (1977), adapted by Michael FeingoldThe Little Foxes (revival, 1981), with costume design by Florence KlotzThe 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 MackieStrange 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 McClinticRomeo and Juliet (revival, 1934-35 and 1935-36), also with Maurice EvansRalph Richardson, and Tyrone PowerThe Barretts of Wimpole Street (revival, 1935); Saint Joan (revival, 1936), also with Maurice Evans and Tyrone PowerAntony and Cleopatra (revival, 1947-48), for which she received the Best Actress in a Play Tony Award, and also had Charles Nolte in the cast; and That Lady (1949-50). Other LGBT performers here included Georgette Harvey and Edna Thomas in Porgy (1929 revival); Claudette Colbert in Dynamo (1929); George Freedley in The Camel Through the Needle’s Eye (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).

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: G. Albert Lansburgh
  • Year Built: 1923-24

Sources

  1. “The 1st List of: Gay/Lesbian/Bi Industry People, Both in Front and Behind the Camera,” www.imdb.com, May 31, 2013.

  2. Adam Hetrick, “The Work of Broadway’s Gay and Lesbian Artistic Community Goes on Display Nov. 14 When the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation Gallery Presents ‘StageStruck: The Magic of Theatre Design’,” Playbill, Nov. 14, 2007.

  3. Internet Broadway Database.

  4. Martin Beck Theater Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1987).

Curated Themes

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