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.

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 ZweigCaprice (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 HartGarrick Gaieties (revival, 1930) by and composed by Marc Blitzstein and others; Green Grow the Lilacs (1931) by Lynn RiggsThe Merchant of Yonkers (1938-39) by Thornton WilderJeremiah (1939) by Stefan Zweig; and Yesterday’s Magic (1942) by Emlyn Williams. LGBT performers here included LGBT performers here included Georgette Harvey in Porgy (1927-28); 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 AndersonThe School for Wives (1951), with scenic and costume design by Christian BerardThe Skin of Our Teeth (revival, 1955) by Thornton Wilder, with actor Mary MartinThe Dark is Light Enough (1955), with scenic and costume design by Oliver Messel, with actors Katharine Cornell and Tyrone PowerThe Great Sebastians (1956), with Alfred Lunt and Lynn FontanneSay, Darling (1958) designed by Oliver SmithThe 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, with costume design by Irene Sharaff, and with dancer Tommy AbbottBig Fish, Little Fish (1961) by Hugh Wheeler, directed by John Gielgud (Best Direction of a Play Tony Award), and with actor George GrizzardBlues for Mr. Charlie (1964) by James BaldwinTraveller Without Luggage (1964), with scenic and costume design by Oliver MesselThe Owl and the Pussycat (1964-65), with costume design by Florence KlotzThe Royal Hunt of the Sun (1965-66) by Peter Shaffer, with actor George RoseMaggie Flynn (1968-69), with costume design by W. Robert LaVine, and with actor Jack CassidyOur Town (revival, 1969) by Thornton WilderThe Last of Mrs. Lincoln (1972-73), with scenic design by William RitmanCat on a Hot Tin Roof (revival, 1974-75) by Tennessee WilliamsFirst 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 StraigesWhoopee! (1979), with scenic design by John Lee BeattyNight 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 BrownCity of Angels (1989-92), with costume design by Florence KlotzJelly’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, and with Lesley Gore as a guest star. 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 McKellenMy Fair Lady (revival, 1993-94), with Richard ChamberlainThe 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.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: C. Howard Crane & Kenneth Franzheim
  • Year Built: 1924-25

Sources

  1. 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.

  2. ANTA Theater Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1985).

  3. Internet Broadway Database.

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

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