overview

Opened in 1913, the Booth Theater has been associated with major LGBT performers and creators that include Jill Esmond, Noel Coward, Thornton Wilder, Elisabeth Marbury, Tennessee Williams, Montgomery Clift, Oliver Smith, and Alvin Ailey, among others.

The lesbian-themed play Girls in Uniform (1932) by Christa Winsloe was briefly staged here and told the story of a Prussian schoolgirl who grows attached to her teacher.

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

History

The biggest hit theater productions with LGBT associations at the Booth Theater were Bird in Hand (1929), with Jill EsmondBlithe Spirit (1942-43) by Noel Coward, with actor Clifton Webb (opened at the Morosco Theater); Dial “M” for Murder (1954) with Maurice Evans (opened at the Plymouth Theater); Anniversary Waltz (1954-55), with costume design by Robert Mackintosh (opened at the Broadhurst Theater); The Matchmaker (1956-57) by Thornton Wilder (opened at the Royale Theater); Luv (1964-66), with scenic design by Oliver Smith (Best Scenic Design Tony Award); Butterflies Are Free (1969-72) by Leonard Gershe, with costume design by Robert MackintoshSunday in the Park with George (1984-85; Pulitzer Prize for Drama), with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and scenic design by Tony Straiges (Best Scenic Design Tony Award); and I’m Not Rappaport (1985-88), with lighting design by Pat Collins (Best Lighting Design Tony Award).

One lesbian-themed play attempted to open despite the Wales Padlock Law (1927), which forbade the depiction of “sex perversion” on stage. Girls in Uniform (1932) by Christa Winsloe told the story of a Prussian schoolgirl who grows attached to her teacher. It only played a dozen performances at the Booth due to the huge success of the German film version, Madchen in Uniform, that premiered before the play.

Plays with LGBT creators at the Booth Theater included Too Many Husbands (1919-20), The Breadwinner (1931), and For Services Rendered (1932) by W. Somerset MaughamRevue Russe (1922) produced by Elisabeth MarburyDancing Mothers (1924-25) by Edmund Goulding and Edgar Selwyn; First Love (1926) by Zoe AkinsAfter All (1931) and The Distaff Side (1934-35) by John Van DrutenOne for the Money (1939) and Two for the Show (1940), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, the latter with actor Richard HaydnThe Deep Mrs. Sykes (1945) by George KellyYou Touched Me (1945-46) by Tennessee Williams and Donald Wyndham, with actor Montgomery CliftThe Would-Be Gentleman (revival, 1946), with costume design by Irene SharaffThe Play’s the Thing (1948), with scenic design by Oliver MesselCome Back, Little Sheba (1950) and Natural Affection (1963) by William Inge, the latter with scenic design by Oliver SmithA Visit to a Small Planet (1957-58) by Gore Vidal, directed by Cyril Ritchard, with scenic design by Oliver Smith, with Ritchard; A Taste of Honey (1961), with production design by Oliver Smith (opened at Lyceum Theater); Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright (1962-63), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, with Alvin AileyThe Birthday Party (1967-68), with scenic design by William RitmanNoel Coward’s Sweet Potato (1968), with book, music and lyrics by Noel Coward, and with actor George Grizzard (opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater); Bad Habits (1974) by Terrence McNallyAll Over Town (1974-75), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Albert WolskyMass Appeal (1981-82), with costume design by William Ivey LongTru (1989-90) based on the words and works of Truman CapoteOnce on This Island (1990-91), with music and dance arrangements by Stephen FlahertyThe Most Happy Fella (revival, 1992), with scenic design by John Lee BeattyAn Evening with Jerry Herman (1998), with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, with Herman and Lee Roy ReamsVia Dolorosa (1999), with scenic and costume design by Ian MacNeil; and The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (revival, 2000-01) by Jane Wagner, with Lily Tomlin.

LGBT performers at the Booth have included Guthrie McClintic in The Great Adventure (1913), Eugene O’Brien in The Money Makers (1914), Harrison Ford in The Bubble (1915), Eva Le Gallienne in Not So Long Ago (1920), Blythe Daly in Happy-Go-Lucky (1920), Earl McDonald in White Wings (1926), Charles Laughton in The Fatal Alibi (1932), Spring Byington in The First Apple (1933-34), Montgomery Clift in Dame Nature (1938) and Foxhole in the Parlor (1945), John Abbott in his Broadway debut in He Who Gets Slapped (1946), Edward Everett Horton in Springtime for Henry (1951) (opened at Golden Theater), An Evening with Beatrice Lillie (1952-53) starring Beatrice LillieMichael Feinstein in Isn’t It Romantic (1988), Alec McCowen in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (1992-93), and Sandra Bernhard in I’m Still Here… Damn It! (1998-99).

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Henry B. Herts
  • Year Built: 1912-13

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. Booth Theater Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1987).

  3. Internet Broadway Database.

  4. Kaier Curtin, “We Can Always Call Them Bulgarians”: the Emergence of Lesbians and Gay Men on the American Stage (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1987).

  5. 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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