overview

Opened as the National Theater in 1921 and renamed the Billy Rose Theater in 1959 and the Nederlander Theater in 1980, this venue has staged multiple productions involving major LGBT performers and creators, including Tallulah Bankhead, Ethel Waters, Noel Coward, W. Somerset Maugham, Guthrie McClintic, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Oliver Smith, and James Baldwin, among others.

During its Tony Award-winning run at the Nederlander, the hit musical Rent (1996-2008), about a group of friends living in the East Village during the AIDS crisis, brought portrayals of LGBT characters and those living with HIV/AIDS to mainstream theater audiences.

Header Photo
Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2017.

History

National Theater
The two biggest LGBT-associated hits at the National Theater were The Little Foxes (1939-40) with Tallulah Bankhead, and The Corn is Green (1940-41) by Emlyn Williams. Other LGBT-associated productions here included Africana (1927, opened at Daly’s 63rd Street Theater) with Ethel WatersTonight at 8:30 (1936 and 1948), written and staged by Noel Coward, with Coward; Macbeth (revival, 1941-42) with Maurice Evans and Judith AndersonThe Cherry Orchard (revival, 1944) with Eva Le GallienneEmbezzled Heaven (1944-45) with Sanford MeisnerThe Day Before Spring (1945-46), with costume design by Miles WhiteMedea (revival, 1947) with Judith Anderson (Best Actress in a Play Tony Award) and John GielgudCrime and Punishment (revival, 1947-48) with John GielgudLend Me An Ear (1948-49), with scenic, costume and lighting design by Raoul Pene Du BoisThe Constant Wife (revival, 1951-52) by W. Somerset Maugham, staged by Guthrie McClintic, and with actor Katharine Cornell; Camino Real (1953) by Tennessee Williams, with actor Hurd HatfieldMrs. Patterson (1954-55), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois; and The Square Root of Wonderful (1957) by Carson McCullers.

Billy Rose Theater
In 1959, the theater was renamed the Billy Rose Theater. The biggest LGBT-associated hit here was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962-64) by Edward Albee (Best Play Tony Award), with production design by William Ritman, and with actor George Grizzard. Other LGBT-associated productions at the Billy Rose included Heartbreak House (revival, 1959-60), with costume design by Freddy Wittop, and with actor Maurice EvansDear Liar (1960), with costume design by Cecil Beaton, and with actor Katharine CornellA Family Affair (1962), with book, music and lyrics by James and William Goldman and John Kander, and with actor Larry Kert and dancer Tommy AbbottTiny Alice (1964-65) by Edward Albee, with scenic design by William Ritman, and with actor John GielgudThe Right Honourable Gentleman (1965-66), with scenic and costume design by Loudon Sainthill, and with actor Coral BrowneWhere’s Daddy? (1966) by William Inge, which included a gay character; The Rose Tattoo (revival, 1966) by Tennessee WilliamsPrivate Lives (revival, 1969-70) by Noel Coward, and with actor Brian BedfordThe Country Girl (revival, 1972) with George Grizzard; and Jumpers (1974) with Brian Bedford and Remak Ramsey.

Nederlander Theater
The theater was renamed the Nederlander Theater in 1980. An enormous hit here was Rent (1996-2008, opened Off-Broadway at New York Theater Workshop – Best Musical Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama) with Anthony Rapp, about a group of friends living in the East Village during the AIDS crisis. The show is credited with bringing portrayals of LGBT characters and those living with HIV/AIDS to mainstream theater audiences. Other LGBT-associated productions included 84 Charing Cross Road (1982-83), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and with actor Joseph MaherAmen Corner (1983), a musical based on the play by James BaldwinBeethoven’s Tenth (1984), with George Rose; and Our Country’s Good (1991), with Peter Frechette and Cherry Jones.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: William Neil Smith
  • Year Built: 1921

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.

Curated Themes

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Broadway Theater District

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