overview

Opened as the Erlanger Theater in 1927 and renamed the St. James Theater in 1932, this venue has staged multiple productions involving major LGBT performers and creators, including Jerome Robbins, Florence Klotz, Oliver Smith, Cole Porter, Arthur Laurents, Nathan Lane, Laurence Olivier, Irene Sharaff, and Katharine Hepburn, among others.

Three hugely successful musicals at the St. James with LGBT associations were Oklahoma! (1948), The King and I (1951-54), and Hello, Dolly! (1964-70).

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

History

There was one LGBT- associated play here after it opened as the Erlanger Theater: Murray Anderson’s Almanac (1929) by Noel Coward and others, and with actor Jack Cole. The name was changed in 1932 to the St. James Theater. There were three enormous LGBT-associated hits here: Oklahoma! (1943-48), based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs (1931) by Lynn Riggs, and with costume design by Miles WhiteThe King and I (1951-54), with costume design by Irene Sharaff (Best Costume Design Tony Award) and choreography by Jerome Robbins; and Hello, Dolly! (1964-70 – Best Musical Tony Award) by Michael Stewart (Best Author of a Musical Tony Award) based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (Best Composer and Lyricist Tony Award), scenic design by Oliver Smith (Best Scenic Design Tony Award), costume design by Freddy Wittop (Best Costume Design Tony Award), and with actor Charles Nelson Reilly.

Other big hits at the St. James were Panama Hattie (1941), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter (opened at the 46th Street Theater); Flower Drum Song (1958-60), with scenic production by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Irene SharaffBarnum (1980) by Mark Bramble, with lyrics by Michael StewartMy One and Only (1983-85), with staging and choreography by Tommy Tune and Thommie Walsh (Best Choreography Tony Award), with Tune (Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award); Gypsy (revival, 1989-91) by Arthur Laurents, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (Best Revival Tony Award); and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (revival, 1996-98), with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and with actor Nathan Lane (Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award).

Productions by LGBT creators at the St. James also included Thumbs Up! (1934-35 ), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois and others; Hamlet (revival, 1936-37), staged by Guthrie McClintic, with actors John GielgudJudith Anderson, and Harry Andrews (opened at the Empire Theater); Pal Joey (1941), with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and with actor Van Johnson (opened at the Barrymore Theater); Sunny River (1941-42), with costume design by Irene SharaffPeter Pan (1950), with music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein, and with actors Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff (opened at the Imperial Theater); Becket (1960), with scenic design by Oliver Smith (Best Scenic Design Tony Award), and with actor Laurence OlivierDo Re Mi (1960-61), with costume design by Irene SharaffSubways Are for Sleeping (1961-62), with costume design by Freddy WittopA Streetcar Named Desire (revival, 1973) by Tennessee WilliamsMy Fair Lady (revival, 1976), with production design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Cecil Beaton, with W. Robert LaVine as special costume assistant, and also with George Rose (Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award); On the Twentieth Century (1978-79), with costume design by Florence KlotzThe 1940’s Radio Hour (1979-80), The Civil War (1999), and Swing! (1999-2001), with costume design by William Ivey LongFilumena (1980), a production by Franco Zeffirelli, directed by Laurence OlivierJerry’s Girls (1985-86), with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, and costume design by Florence Klotz;  and High Society (1998), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

LGBT performers here included Beatrice Lillie in Walk a Little Faster (1932-33); Leonide Massine in the American debut of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1933); Jack Cole in May Wine (1935-36); Maurice Evans in King Richard II (revival, 1937), Hamlet (revival, 1938), Henry IV (revival, 1939), and Twelfth Night (revival, 1940); Katharine Hepburn in Without Love (1942); Alec McCowen in The Misanthrope (revival, 1975); and Cyril Ritchard in A Musical Jubilee (1975-76).

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Warren & Wetmore
  • Year Built: 1926-27

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

  2. Internet Broadway Database.

  3. 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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