overview

Opened in 1918 as Henry Miller’s Theater, this venue has staged multiple productions involving major LGBT performers and characters, including Noel Coward’s The Vortex (1925-26), in which he played a closeted gay man.

After 1968, this building housed a movie theater (that also later showed gay male porn), followed by the Xenon nightclub, a disco, and the Kit Kat Klub. The theater interior was demolished in 2004, a new below-ground theater was built, and, in 2010, the venue was renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theater.

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

History

This venue was originally known as Henry Miller’s Theater. One fairly successful gay-themed play appeared at the Henry Miller prior to the Wales Padlock Law (1927), which forbade the depiction of “sex perversion” on stage. Noel Coward had become a sensation in England in his play The Vortex, which he transferred here for his American debut in 1925-26. Coward’s character was a closeted gay man. The biggest LGBT-associated hit at the Henry Miller was Born Yesterday (1948-49), with Judy Holliday (opened at the Lyceum Theater). Another big hit was Dear Ruth (1944-46), with John Dall.

Productions by LGBT creators here included Our Betters (1928) and The Sacred Flame (1928) by W. Somerset MaughamJourney’s End (1929-30) and The Violet and One, Two, Three (1930), staged  by James Whale, the former with scenic design by Whale; The Country Wife (1936-37), with scenic design by Oliver MesselFrench Without Tears (1937-38) by Terence RattiganOur Town (1938) by Thornton WilderThe Happy Days (1941), adapted by Zoe AkinsLook After Lulu (1959) by Noel Coward, staged by Cyril Ritchard, with scenic and costume design by Cecil Beaton, and with actor Roddy McDowallUnder the Yum Yum Tree (1960-61), with scenic design by Oliver SmithThe White House (1964), with music by Lee Hoiby, and scenic and costume design by Ed WittsteinThe Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1964-65) by Lorraine Hansberry (opened at the Longacre Theater), which featured a gay male character; 3 Bags Full (1966), with costume design by Freddy WittopThe Promise (1967), with scenic design by William Ritman, and with actor Ian McKellenBefore You Go (1968), with scenic design by Ed Wittstein; and Morning, Noon and Night (1968-69), with the middle portion Noon by Terrence McNally.

LGBT performers at the Henry Miller included Eva Le Gallienne in Lusmore (1919), Alfred Lunt in The Intimate Strangers (1921-22), Laurette Taylor in The National Anthem (1922), Spencer Tracy in Baby Cyclone (1927-28), Edna Thomas in Harriet (1943-44), Alec Guinness in The Cocktail Party (1950-51), James Coco in Hotel Paradiso (1957), Laurence Harvey in The Country Wife (revival, 1957) (opened at the Adelphi Theater), and Josephine Baker.

From 1968 to 1977, this was a movie theater, including after 1971 as the Park-Miller Theater and Avon-at-the-Hudson Theater showing gay male porn. This became the Xenon nightclub from 1978 to 1984, inspired by the popularity of Studio 54, appealing to a fashion crowd. It did manage to attract some celebrities, such as Andy WarholHalstonElton John, and Freddie Mercury. It later became the disco Shout.

As the Kit Kat Klub, the theater produced the enormous hit revival of Cabaret in 1998 (Best Revival of a Musical Tony Award), based on I Am a Camera by John Van Druten (which was based on stories by Christopher Isherwood), with music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebbcostume design by William Ivey Long, and with actors Alan Cumming (Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award), John Benjamin Hickey, and Denis O’Hare (it moved to Studio 54).

In 2004, the Henry Miller’s Theater interior was demolished while the historic façade was retained, and a new below-ground theater was built. In 2010, it was renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theater, becoming one of several Broadway theaters that have been named after an LGBT person.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Allen, Ingalls & Hoffman
  • Year Built: 1917-18

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. Henry Miller 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.

  6. The Bowery Boys, “Xenon and the Strange Journey of a Broadway Theater: Noel Coward, Fellini, porn, disco, ‘Cabaret’, Dame Edna,” July 16, 2010, www.boweryboyshistory.com.

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