overview

Opened as the Forrest Theater in 1926 and renamed the Coronet Theater in 1945 and the Eugene O’Neill Theater in 1959, this venue has staged multiple productions involving major LGBT creators and performers, including Anna May Wong, Arthur Laurents, Noel Coward, Rosie O’Donnell, Oliver Smith, Sandy Dennis, Tommy Tune, and Charles Nelson Reilly, among others.

The first revival of the 1934 play The Children’s Hour, about a schoolgirl who accuses two teachers of being lesbians, was performed here in 1952-53.

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

History

Forrest Theater
One enormous hit with an LGBT performer, when this was the Forrest Theater, was Tobacco Road (1934-41), with Will Geer (opened at the Theater Masque). Another hit was Bird in Hand (1930), with Jill Esmond (opened at the Booth Theater). Anna May Wong appeared in On the Spot (1930-31), while Hand in Glove (1944-45) was directed by James Whale.

Coronet Theater
It was renamed the Coronet Theater in 1945. Despite the Wales Padlock Law (1927), which forbade the depiction of “sex perversion” on stage, and which remained on the books until 1967, one play at the Coronet was produced with a lesbian theme. This was the first revival of Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play The Children’s Hour (1952-53), about a schoolgirl who accuses two teachers of being lesbians.

Other plays here by LGBT creators and with LGBT performers included Suds in Your Eye (1944), with costume design by Kermit Love (opened at the Cort Theater); Small Wonder (1948-49), with Jack CassidyThe Browning Version/ Harlequinade (1949) by Terence Rattigan, and with Maurice EvansThe Bird Cage (1950) by Arthur Laurents, and with Sanford MeisnerTickets, Please! (1950), with Larry KertThe Little Hut (1953), with scenic design by Oliver MesselQuadrille (1954-55) by Noel Coward, with scenic and costume design by Cecil Beaton, and with actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn FontanneThe Great Sebastians (1956), with Alfred Lunt and Lynn FontanneThe Sleeping Prince (1956) by Terence Rattigan, and with Michael Redgrave; The Waltz of the Toreadors (revival, 1957), with Ralph Richardson and John Abbott; and The Firstborn (1958), with Katharine Cornell and Robert Drivas.

Eugene O’Neill Theater
In 1959, it was renamed the Eugene O’Neill Theater. Big hits here with LGBT associations included The Odd Couple (1966-67), with scenic design by Oliver Smith (opened at the Plymouth Theater; Best Scenic Design Tony Award); Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1969-70), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and with James CocoChapter Two (1979), with scenic design by William Ritman (opened at the Imperial Theater); M. Butterfly (1988-90) with B.D. Wong (Best Featured Actor in a Play Tony Award); Grease (revival, 1994-98), with Jerry Mitchell as associate choreographer, and with actors Rosie O’Donnell and Billy Porter; and The Full Monty (2000-02) by Terrence McNally, with choreography by Jerry Mitchell, and with actors André De Shields and Denis Jones.

Other plays with LGBT creators and performers at the O’Neill included The Disenchanted (1958-59) with George Grizzard; A Loss of Roses (1959) by William IngeA Second String (1960) based on a novel by Colette, with costume design by Robert MackintoshFace of a Hero (1960), with George Grizzard and Sandy DennisThe Hostage (1960-61) by Brendan Behan (opened at the Cort Theater); Show Girl (1961), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Miles WhiteRoss (1961-62) by Terence RattiganA Thousand Clowns (1962-63), with Sandy DennisShe Loves Me (1963-64), with Jack CassidyRosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1968, opened at the Alvin Theater), with scenic and costume design by Desmond Heeley (Best Scenic Design and Costume Design Tony Awards); Canterbury Tales (1969), with costume design by Loudon Sainthill (Best Costume Design Tony Award), and with actor George RoseGod’s Favorite (1974-75), with scenic design by William Ritman, and with actor Charles Nelson ReillyCalifornia Suite (1976-77), with scenic design by William Ritman, and with actor George Grizzard; Your Arms Too Short to Box with God (1977-78), with music and lyrics by Alex Bradford (opened at the Lyceum Theater); Fools (1981), with scenic design by John Lee BeattyLittle Me (revival, 1982) based on the book by Patrick Dennis (Edward Everett Tanner III), directed by Robert Drivas and with James Coco and Victor GarberThe Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (revival, 1982), choreographed by Tommy Tune and Thommie WalshThe Glass Menagerie (revival 1983-84) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (revival, 1990) by Tennessee Williams; Penn & Teller: the Refrigerator Tour (1991), with scenic design by John Lee Beatty; and Waiting in the Wings (1999-2000) by Noel Coward with scenic design by Ray Klausen (opened at the Walter Kerr Theater).

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Herbert J. Krapp
  • Year Built: 1925-26

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. Forrest Theater Interior 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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