overview

Opened in 1925 as the Guild Theater and renamed the ANTA Playhouse in 1950 and the Virginia Theater in 1981, this venue staged multiple productions involving major LGBT performers and creators, including Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Emlyn Williams, Mary Martin, Tyrone Power, Thornton Wilder, Lorenz Hart, Eva Le Gallienne, and Gore Vidal, among others.

The venue was renamed the August Wilson Theater in 2005.

Header Photo

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

On the Map

History

Guild Theater
Alfred Lunt
 and Lynn Fontanne, a Broadway couple who had one of the most famous “lavender marriages” (a marriage in which one or both partners are gay) of their time, were heavily associated with the Guild Theater in its first decade. Together, they acted in ten plays: Arms and the Man (revival, 1925); The Goat Song (1926); At Mrs. Bream’s (1926); The Brothers Karamazov (1927); The Second Man (1927); Volpone (1928) by Stefan Zweig; Caprice (1928-29); Meteor (1929-30); Elizabeth the Queen (1930-31); and The Taming of the Shrew (revival, 1935-36). Fontanne appeared in Pygmalion (revival, 1926-27), and Lunt, together with Sanford Meisner, acted in Juarez and Maximillian (1926), The Doctor’s Dilemma (revival, 1927-28), and Marco Millions (1928).

Other productions at the Guild with LGBT creators were Garrick Gaieties (1926), with lyrics by Lorenz Hart; Garrick Gaieties (revival, 1930) by and composed by Marc Blitzstein and others; The Merchant of Yonkers (1938-39) by Thornton Wilder; Jeremiah (1939) by Stefan Zweig; and Yesterday’s Magic (1942) by Emlyn Williams. LGBT performers here included Alla Nazimova in Mourning Becomes Electra (1931-32), The Good Earth (1932), and The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (1935); Beatrice Lillie in Too Good to Be True (1932); Judith Anderson in The Mask and the Face (revival, 1933); Clifton Webb in And Stars Remain (1936); and Eva Le Gallienne in Prelude to Exile (1936-37).

ANTA Playhouse
After a time as a radio station, in 1950 it became the ANTA (American National Theatre and Academy) Playhouse. Productions by LGBT creators and with LGBT performers included The Tower Beyond Tragedy (1950), with Judith Anderson; The School for Wives (1951), with scenic and costume design by Christian Berard; The Skin of Our Teeth (revival, 1955) by Thornton Wilder, with actor Mary Martin; The Dark is Light Enough (1955), with scenic and costume design by Oliver Messel, with actors Katharine Cornell and Tyrone Power; The Great Sebastians (1956), with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne; Say, Darling (1958) designed by Oliver Smith; The Fighting Cock (1959-60), with Roddy McDowall (Best Featured Actor in a Play Tony Award); Jerome Robbins’ Ballet: U.S.A. (1961), choreographed by Jerome Robbins and with costume design by Irene Sharaff; Big Fish, Little Fish (1961) by Hugh Wheeler, directed by John Gielgud (Best Direction of a Play Tony Award), and with actor George Grizzard; Blues for Mr. Charlie (1964) by James Baldwin; Traveller Without Luggage (1964), with scenic and costume design by Oliver Messel; The Owl and the Pussycat (1964-65), with costume design by Florence Klotz; The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1965-66) by Peter Shaffer, with actor George Rose; Maggie Flynn (1968-69), with Jack Cassidy; Our Town (revival, 1969) by Thornton Wilder; The Last of Mrs. Lincoln (1972-73), with scenic design by William Ritman; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (revival, 1974-75) by Tennessee Williams; First Monday in October (1978), with scenic design by Oliver Smith (opened at the Majestic Theater); A History of the American Film (1978), with scenic design by Tony Straiges; Whoopee! (1979), with scenic design by John Lee Beatty; Night and Day (1979-80) with Joseph Maher; and The Suicide (1980), with Derek Jacobi.

Virginia Theater
In 1981, it was renamed the Virginia Theater. The biggest LGBT-associated hits were On Your Toes (revival, 1983-84) by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, with lyrics by Hart (Best Reproduction Tony Award) and production design by Zack Brown; City of Angels (1989-92), with costume design by Florence Klotz; Jelly’s Last Jam (1992-93) by and directed by George C. Wolfe; and Smokey Joe’s Cafe (1995-2000), with costume design by William Ivey Long. Other LGBT-associated shows included Alice in Wonderland (revival, 1982-83) by Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus, with scenic design by John Lee Beatty, with actors Le Gallienne and Edward HibbertWild Honey (1986-87), with Ian McKellen; My Fair Lady (revival, 1993-94), with Richard Chamberlain; The Wild Party (2000) by George C. Wolfe and Michael John LaChiusa, and with music and lyrics by LaChiusa; and The Best Man (revival, 2000) by Gore Vidal, with actor Jonathan Hadary.

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