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The Al Hirschfeld Theatre, currently home to Moulin Rouge!, opened in 1924 as the Martin Beck Theatre, located at 302 W. 45th Street. Designed by architect G. Albert Lansburgh, the large, grandiose venue premiered Bye Bye Birdie and presented revivals of Kiss Me, Kate and Hair. The Martin Beck was renamed for celebrity caricaturist Al Hirschfeld in 2003.
Step Inside Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre
The Al Hirschfeld Theatre serves as the western outpost of the Times Square theatre district, being located just west of Eighth Avenue at 302 West Forty-fifth Street.
This distinctive-looking playhouse opened in 1924 as the Martin Beck Theatre and was described by the New York Times as the only theatre in America designed in the Byzantine style. Beck, the vaudeville mogul who built the house, conceived the building’s style and entrusted its design and execution to San Francisco architect G. Albert Lansburgh. The theatre is distinguished by its unusually large foyer and promenade, and its details of wrought iron and stained glass. With a seating capacity of 1,200 (today 1,437) and dressing rooms for 200 actors, the house was ideal for musicals and spectacular productions. Curiously, it has in its more than 80 years of operation housed many distinguished dramatic plays, some of which were definitely not spectacular.
The Martin Beck opened on November 11, 1924, with a Viennese operetta, Mme. Pompadour, adapted by playwright Clare Kummer, but the public was wearying of schmaltzy operettas at this time and the show ran for a moderate 80 performances.
The theatre had better luck in 1925 when Captain Jinks arrived. This was a musical version of Clyde Fitch’s play Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, which had made a star of Ethel Barrymore. In this version the marine captain (J. Harold Murray) is in love with a world-famous dancer, Trentoni (Louise Brown). Also in the cast was comedian Joe E. Brown as a hack driver. Five collaborators worked on the musical, and it ran for 167 performances.
One of the most sensational plays ever produced on Broadway, John Colton’s The Shanghai Gesture, made waves on February 1, 1926. It starred Florence Reed as Mother Goddam, the owner of a notorious Shanghai whorehouse. It was her most famous role. Seeking revenge on a Britisher who once dumped her to marry an Englishwoman, she lures him to her brothel and sells his own daughter off as a prostitute. Then, discovering that the daughter she had by the Britisher has turned into a dope fiend, she strangles her to death. The critics scoffed at this purple melodrama, but audiences loved it and kept the Martin Beck full for 210 performances.
Next, the Martin Beck booked a comedy that turned out to be its biggest hit to that time: The Shannons of Broadway, written by actor James Gleason, who also starred in it. Playing a vaudevillian, he and his wife (Lucile Webster) have comic adventures when they buy and operate a hotel in New England. The popular comedy ran for 288 performances.
Beginning in December 1928, the prestigious Theatre Guild began producing a number of fascinating plays at the Martin Beck, featuring the famed Theatre Guild Acting Company. Their first production, an antiwar play called Wings Over Europe, was chosen by Burns Mantle as one of the year’s ten best. Next, in February 1929, they presented Eugene O’Neill’s unusual play Dynamo, which pitted religion against science and starred Claudette Colbert, Dudley Digges, Glenn Anders and Helen Westley. Despite its offbeat attraction, the play lasted only 66 performances.
More successful was The Camel Through the Needle’s Eye (1929), a play about an illegitimate girl (Miriam Hopkins) who meets a man (Claude Rains) and makes a success out of him by going into the dairy business with him. The excellent cast also included Henry Travers, Helen Westley and Morris Carnovsky. The play ran for 195 performances.
Theatre Guild productions included a Russian play, Red Rust (1929), with Lee Strasberg, Luther Adler and Franchot Tone, who would soon be prominent in the Group Theatre; Philip Barry’s metaphysical play Hotel Universe (1930), in which guests at a French villa recall incidents from their youth that had a profound influence on their lives, brilliantly acted by Franchot Tone, Ruth Gordon, Glenn Anders, Katherine Alexander, Morris Carnovsky and others; and Roar China! (1930), a play about a Chinese rebellion in which an enormous British warship occupied the vast reaches of the Martin Beck stage.
In 1931 the Theatre Guild moved its successful production of Maxwell Anderson’s Elizabeth the Queen, starring Lunt and Fontanne, from the Guild Theatre to the Martin Beck. The Lunts next appeared at this theatre in one of their acting triumphs, Robert E. Sherwood’s romantic comedy Reunion in Vienna (1931).
Between those two shows the Martin Beck housed the first production of the Group Theatre, made up of younger members of the Theatre Guild who had been responsible for the presentation of Roar China! Their inaugural presentation was Paul Green’s The House of Connelly, and it was produced under the auspices of the Theatre Guild. Chosen as one of the year’s ten best, it was staged by Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford and dealt with the clash of generations in an aristocratic southern family. The critics were very receptive to the production.
In 1932 the Abbey Irish Theatre Players (including Barry Fitzgerald) presented a season of repertory, including such Irish classics as The Far-off Hills, Juno and the Paycock, Playboy of the Western World and The Shadow of a Gunman.
In December 1933, Broadway waited with great anticipation for the return of Katharine Hepburn to the stage. Her chosen vehicle was a British play, The Lake, directed by Jed Harris. Hepburn had gone to Hollywood and become a superstar in a very short time, and so eminent was she that Harris forbade the rest of the cast (including many distinguished actors) to speak to her offstage. The play opened, and Hepburn’s nervous performance inspired the famed Dorothy Parker crack “She ran the gamut of emotions—from A to B.” The general opinion was that Miss Hepburn flopped in The Lake.
Sidney Howard’s documentary play Yellow Jack (1934), written with Paul de Kruif and adapted from de Kruif’s book The Microbe Hunters, opened next. It was based on the true record of Walter Reed and the researchers who discovered that the killer yellow fever was propagated by mosquitoes. The large cast included James Stewart, Edward Acuff, Myron McCormick and Sam Levene as Marine privates who volunteered to be bitten by the deadly insects. The play ran only 79 performances but was admired by the critics.
The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company played a four-month season at the Martin Beck in 1934, followed by Katharine Cornell as a radiant Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, with Basil Rathbone as Romeo, Brian Aherne as Mercutio, Orson Welles as Tybalt and Edith Evans as the Nurse. Cornell was hailed for her luminous performance, and the sumptuous production, with magical sets by Jo Mielziner and dances by Martha Graham, ran for 78 performances. Cornell followed her Juliet with two other productions at the Martin Beck: a revival of her beloved gem The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1935), with Brian Aherne, Burgess Meredith and Brenda Forbes; and John Van Druten’s antiwar play Flowers of the Forest (1935), with Cornell, Meredith and Margalo Gillmore.
A major dramatic event occurred at the Martin Beck on September 25, 1935. Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset opened and proved to be a fascinating and controversial blank-verse drama. Starring Burgess Meredith, Margo, Richard Bennett and Eduardo Ciannelli, the tragedy dealt with a son’s quest for his father’s murderer. The action took place beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and Jo Mielziner’s majestic set was one of his greatest designs. The play won the first award as Best Play of the season conferred by the newly formed New York Drama Critics Circle. It ran for 195 performances.
On March 9, 1936, Katharine Cornell returned in glory to this theatre in her acclaimed revival of Shaw’s Saint Joan. Brilliantly directed by her husband, Guthrie McClintic, who piloted all her plays, the production was hailed as a work of art. Maurice Evans was the Dauphin, and the large cast also included Brian Aherne, Arthur Byron, Eduardo Ciannelli, Kent Smith, George Coulouris and the future film idol Tyrone Power Jr.
The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company paid a return visit with their repertory in 1936, followed by another Maxwell Anderson play, a fantasy called High Tor, which won the second Best Play award conferred by the New York Drama Critics Circle. The fanciful play starred Burgess Meredith and British actress Peggy Ashcroft and featured young Hume Cronyn. It was set on top of an actual mountain on the Hudson called High Tor and involved the young man who owned it and who refused to sell it. Ghosts of ancient Dutch sailors waiting for the return of Henry Hudson’s boat added comic relief, and the refreshing play ran for 171 performances.
The remainder of the 1930s found the Martin Beck occupied by Ina Claire in an unsuccessful adaptation of Trollope’s Barchester Towers (1937); a revival of Victoria Regina, with Helen Hayes repeating her celebrated role (1938); another engagement of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (1939); and Helen Hayes again, this time in a modern murder-trial play, Ladies and Gentlemen (1939), adapted by her husband, Charles MacArthur, and Ben Hecht from a Hungarian play. It was a moderate success, running for 105 performances.
In 1940 Lady in Waiting, a dramatization of Margery Sharp’s popular novel The Nutmeg Tree, boasted a sterling comic performance by Gladys George but ran for only 87 performances. On April 1, 1941, Lillian Hellman’s prophetic play Watch on the Rhine, starring Paul Lukas, Lucile Watson, Mady Christians and George Coulouris, stunned audiences with its antifascist theme. Directed by Herman Shumlin and brilliantly acted, the play won the Best American Play award conferred by the New York Drama Critics Circle and ran for 378 performances. John Steinbeck’s adaptation of his novel The Moon Is Down (1942) was next, but did not achieve great success. The popular comedy hit My Sister Eileen moved here from the Biltmore Theatre and stayed for four months. The Lunts arrived in November 1942 with The Pirate, S. N. Behrman’s colorful adaptation of an idea in a play by Ludwig Fulda. It gave Lunt an opportunity to walk a tightrope and pretend he was a notorious pirate whom Fontanne idolizes. This bizarre burlesque ran for 176 performances.
One of the Martin Beck’s biggest hits was Behrman’s adaptation of Franz Werfel’s play Jacobowsky and the Colonel (1944), starring Louis Calhern, Oscar Karlweis, Annabella, J. Edward Bromberg nd E. G. Marshall. The adventurous story involved a comical and enterprising refugee named Jacobowsky (Karlweis), an aristocratic Polish colonel (Calhern), and a beautiful blonde (Annabella) fleeing together in a car from Nazi-occupied France. The comedy ran for 417 performances.
In March 1945 Tallulah Bankhead and Donald Cook opened in Foolish Notion, Philip Barry’s most foolish play. This misguided venture was followed by the rollicking Bernstein/Comden/Green musical On the Town, which moved in from the 44th Street Theatre for a stay of five months. Next came the melodious Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer musical St. Louis Woman (1946), with Pearl Bailey, Rex Ingram, Juanita Hall and the Nicholas Brothers, directed by Rouben Mamoulian; Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (1946), with James Barton, Dudley Digges, E. G. Marshall, Nicholas Joy, Tom Pedi and Jeanne Cagney; Nancy Walker in a musical, Barefoot Boy with Cheek (1947), adapted by Max Shulman from his humorous book of the same name; Katharine Cornell, Godfrey Tearle, Kent Smith, Eli Wallach, Maureen Stapleton, Charlton Heston, Lenore Ulric and Douglass Watson in a revival of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (1949); unsuccessful revivals of Shaw’s You Never Can Tell and Jerome Kern’s Sally (1948); and Katharine Cornell in one of her poorest productions, That Lady (1949), in which she performed with a black patch over her eye.
During the 1950s at the Martin Beck, Helen Hayes appeared in The Wisteria Trees (1950), Joshua Logan’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard set in America’s Deep South. Gilbert Miller unveiled his sumptuous production of Ring Round the Moon (1950), Christopher Fry’s translation of Jean Anouilh’s charade with music. Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach, Don Murray and Phyllis Love gleamed in Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo (1951), with Stapleton and Wallach winning Tony Awards for their performances and the play winning a Tony as the best drama of the season.
Maxwell Anderson’s Barefoot in Athens was a failure in 1951, and Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp flopped in 1952. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953), with Arthur Kennedy, Beatrice Straight, E. G. Marshall, Walter Hampden and Madeleine Sherwood, focused on the Salem witch hunts as a metaphor for anticommunist hysteria in then-contemporary America but was more successful when it was later revived Off-Broadway.
On October 15, 1953, one of the Martin Beck’s most memorable productions opened: John Patrick’s enchanting comedy The Teahouse of the August Moon. The production won five Tony Awards, including Best Actor (David Wayne) and Best Play, and stayed at the Martin Beck for 1,027 performances. Also starring John Forsythe and Paul Ford, Teahouse delighted with its comical depiction of the American occupation of Okinawa island.
On October 30, 1956, Shaw’s Major Barbara was successfully revived. The production, directed by Charles Laughton, also starred Laughton and Cornelia Otis Skinner, plus Burgess Meredith, Glynis Johns and Eli Wallach. It moved to the Morosco to make way for the Beck’s next tenant, Candide, a musical version of the Voltaire classic with music by Leonard Bernstein, book by Lillian Hellman and lyrics by Richard Wilbur, John Latouche, Leonard Bernstein and Dorothy Parker. With these geniuses at the helm, the production (directed by Tyrone Guthrie) should have been a triumph, but it was not. However, the cast album captured the brilliance of the score, and the show has had two (drastically revised) revivals on Broadway.
A minor Tennessee Williams play, Orpheus Descending, with Maureen Stapleton, Cliff Robertson and Lois Smith, lasted only 68 performances in 1957; but a flimsy comedy, Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?, with Mary Healy, Peter Lind Hayes and Ray Walston, managed to last 208 times. The final show of the 1950s at the Beck was a Tennessee Williams winner, Sweet Bird of Youth, with Geraldine Page giving an unforgettable performance as a fading movie star who is living with a young hustler (Paul Newman). It ran for 375 performances.
On April 14, 1960, a jubilant hit came to the Martin Beck. Bye Bye Birdie, an exuberant musical parody of early rock and roll and the gyrating Elvis Presley, was an instant hit and won the following Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Book (Michael Stewart), Best Score (Charles Strouse and Lee Adams), Best Direction and Best Choreography (Gower Champion), and Best Supporting Actor (Dick Van Dyke). The gifted cast also included Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde, Dick Gautier (as a Presley clone), Kay Medford and Michael J. Pollard. It ran for 607 performances.
During the 1960s the Martin Beck hosted a number of shows that moved there from other houses. Some highlights that originated at the Beck during this decade included Jerry Herman’s Milk and Honey (1961), about the new Israel; Anne Bancroft, Barbara Harris, Gene Wilder and Zohra Lampert in a revival of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children (1963), staged by Jerome Robbins; Colleen Dewhurst and Michael Dunn in Edward Albee’s adaptation of Carson McCullers’s The Ballad of the Sad Café (1963); Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn and Robert Shaw in Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Physicists (1964), directed by Peter Brook; and Buddy Hackett and Richard Kiley in the rowdy musical I Had a Ball (1964).
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s mesmerizing production of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade brought nudity—and a startling sense of the stage’s possibilities—to Broadway in 1965.
Highlights of the late 1960s included Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Rosemary Murphy and Marian Seldes in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance (1966); Leslie Uggams, Robert Hooks, Lillian Hayman and Allen Case in the Tony Award-winning musical Hallelujah, Baby! (1967), by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne; and the long-running musical Man of La Mancha, which moved here from the downtown ANTA Theatre (1968).
The Martin Beck Theatre remained in the Beck family until 1966. The theatre is currently owned and operated by Jujamcyn Theaters, which has kept the house in the finest condition.
During the early 1970s, the Martin Beck had a run of plays and musicals that did not last very long. The most notable were Edward Albee’s All Over (1971), with Jessica Tandy, Colleen Dewhurst, Betty Field and George Voskovec; a musical version of The Grass Harp (1971), starring Barbara Cook; and a British import, Habeas Corpus (1975), with June Havoc, Rachel Roberts, Richard Gere, Celeste Holm, Jean Marsh and Paxton Whitehead.
The streak of flops ended on October 20, 1977, when Frank Langella opened in the title role of Dracula, and the Martin Beck became a happy haven for thrill seekers for 925 performances. Langella was succeeded by Raul Julia and David Dukes. The much-publicized Broadway debut of Elizabeth Taylor in The Little Foxes had a sellout run in 1981.
The Martin Beck’s 1980s tenants included a baseball musical, The First (1981); Robert Altman’s Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1981), with Cher making her Broadway debut; Angela Lansbury in A Little Family Business (1982); and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s splendid revival of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well (1983).
In 1984 Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera opened here in The Rink, a musical by Terrence McNally, John Kander and Fred Ebb. Rivera won a Tony Award for her performance. The following year, John Lithgow starred in a stage adaptation of Rod Serling’s successful TV and movie story Requiem for a Heavyweight, but it was short-lived (three performances). Also doomed was a revival of the musical Take Me Along (based on Eugene O’Neill’s nostalgic comedy Ah, Wilderness!), which closed on its opening night in 1985.
The Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical Into the Woods fared much better in 1987 and ran for 765 performances. The interweaving of classic fairy tales (e.g., “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Jack and the Beanstalk”) won Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical (Lapine), Best Original Score (Sondheim), and Leading Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason). The producers advertised the production by attaching a huge inflatable leg and spiked boots to the front of the theatre, to make it appear that the Giant of the beanstalk was sitting atop the Martin Beck!
On November 12, 1989, the musical Grand Hotel opened, based on the popular Vicki Baum novel, with a book by Luther Davis; songs by Robert Wright, George Forrest and Maury Yeston; and direction and choreography by Tommy Tune. Performed without intermission, the musical detailed the lives and intrigues of guests at the Grand Hotel in Berlin in 1928. This atmospheric musical was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won the following: Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Michael Jeter), Best Costume Design (Santo Loquasto), Best Musical Director (Tommy Tune), Best Choreography (Tune) and Best Lighting Design (Jules Fisher). During rehearsals, Yeston (Nine, Titanic) was brought in to supply additional music and lyrics to a project Wright and Forrest had been developing for more than two decades. The musical ran for 1,077 performances and ended its long run in 1992 at the Gershwin Theatre.
Another huge hit played at this theatre when the classic 1950 musical Guys and Dolls, by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, was revived in 1992. The stars this time included Nathan Lane, Faith Prince, Peter Gallagher, Josie de Guzman, Scott Wise and Walter Bobbie, and the revival received a rapturous reception. It ran for 1,143 performances—nearly as long as the original—and won the following Tony Awards: Best Musical Revival, Best Actress in a Musical (Prince), Best Musical Director (Jerry Zaks), and Best Scenic Design (Tony Walton).
My Thing of Love, a play about a broken marriage, opened on May 3, 1995, starring Laurie Metcalf, but lasted for only 13 performances.
On October 1, 1995, Carol Burnett and Philip Bosco brought convulsive slapstick to the Martin Beck in Ken Ludwig’s farce Moon Over Buffalo. Not all critics were amused. Some found that the comedy about a hammy theatrical troupe appearing at a Buffalo theatre strained too hard to be funny. Nevertheless, both Burnett (in her first Broadway appearance since 1964) and Bosco received Tony Award nominations for their performances. They were ably supported by Jane Connell, Randy Graff and others, and ran for 308 performances. Later in the run the two leads were succeeded by Lynn Redgrave and Robert Goulet. An unusual aspect of the production was that a fascinating documentary called Moon Over Broadway was filmed by D. A. Pennebaker backstage during the creation and rehearsals of this comedy, which vividly detailed the bickering and problems that ensue when “the show must go on.” The show is also remembered for its poster, which consisted of a rebus: a crescent moon hanging over the figure of a bison.
The famed magician David Copperfield brightened the 1996 holiday season at this theatre with his lavish magic show Dreams & Nightmares. Described as “an intimate evening of grand illusion,” the spectacle was created and performed by Copperfield with startling special effects. Francis Ford Coppola served as the creative advisor. The sold-out extravaganza completed a limited run of 54 performances.
A new production of the 1977 musical Annie received a very mixed reception in March 1997. Nell Carter played Miss Hannigan and Brittny Kissinger was Annie, but they did not enjoy the success of Dorothy Loudon or Andrea McArdle of the original production. The show received a Tony Award nomination for Best Revival but didn’t win. It ran for 238 performances.
Rebecca Luker starred as Maria in a beautifully mounted 1998 revival of The Sound of Music directed by Susan H. Schulman. During the 533-performance run, TV star Richard Chamberlain stepped into the role of Captain von Trapp, with 18-year-old Laura Benanti at his side to sing “Do Re Mi” as Maria in her Broadway debut.
A nostalgic event occurred at this theatre on November 18, 1999. A new production of Cole Porter’s classic 1948 Kiss Me, Kate (which had been the first musical to win a Tony Award) opened to vociferous cheers. The splendid book by Sam and Bella Spewack deftly combined Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with the backstage antics of a theatrical troupe performing a musical version of the comedy in Baltimore. Porter’s score is considered to be his best. In the new production the leads were played by Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, Amy Spanger and Michael Berresse. A nostalgic note: the original leads in 1948 were Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Lisa Kirk and Harold Lang. Morison, the only surviving member of this quartet, attended the 1999 opening night and looked radiant.
Kiss Me, Kate received twelve Tony Award nominations and won the following: Best Musical Revival; Best Orchestrations (Don Sebesky); Best Costumes (Martin Pakledinaz); Best Musical Direction (Michael Blakemore), and Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Mitchell).
In response to the box office plunge that followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the cast of Kiss Me, Kate made a memorable eleventh-hour effort to save the show. In a dramatic curtain speech at what was to have been the final performance on September 23, it was announced that in addition to taking a 25 percent pay cut, the company volunteered to allocate an additional quarter of their salaries to buy tickets to the show and donate them to the rescue workers who had a hand in the recovery effort. The gesture helped keep Kate running through December 2001, when it closed after 881 performances.
John Lithgow took the role of corrupt newspaper columnist J. J. Hunsecker, and Brian d’Arcy James played the increasingly desperate press agent Sidney, in Sweet Smell of Success, a dark musical adaptation of the classic film of the same name. The powerhouse collaborative team of Marvin Hamlisch (music), John Guare (book), Craig Carnelia (lyrics), and Nicholas Hytner (direction) was unable to deliver a hit. The show opened on March 14, 2002, and closed after 109 performances.
In December 2002 Brian Stokes Mitchell brought his lush baritone to the role of knight-errant Don Quixote in a revival of Man of La Mancha opposite Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Aldonza and Ernie Sabella as Sancho. Paul Brown’s set featured a huge semicircular staircase that embraced the playing space and rose into the heavens. Mitchell sang “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” 304 times.
On June 21, 2003, the Martin Beck Theatre was renamed the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in honor of the caricaturist who had spent eight decades capturing the spirit of evanescent theatre performances with his distinctive looping sketches. The theatre’s new marquee was topped with a self-portrait of Hirschfeld outlined in neon. When first installed, the figure in the drawing seemed to be using its own head as an inkwell, with a well of bright red “ink” that gave the portrait a macabre aspect. Blue neon was soon substituted.
Actors in the next few shows reported backstage mischief from an allegedly supernatural source—reputedly Beck’s ghost, who apparently was unhappy with the name change. The problem seemed to abate after a plaque acknowledging Beck was installed in a prominent place in the inner lobby.
The first show in the rechristened playhouse was a revival of the musical Wonderful Town, starring Donna Murphy and Jennifer Westfeldt as two Ohio sisters adapting to life in Greenwich Village. Murphy earned raves for a performance that had her climbing the set for “Conga!,” but her frequent absences due to illness became tabloid fodder and cut into the box office. Actress Brooke Shields followed her into the role of Ruth, but Kathleen Marshall’s lauded revival (which originated at the City Center Encores!” series) closed after 497 performances.
The Hirschfeld got its third big musical revival in a row beginning May 4, 2005, with Sweet Charity, starring Christina Applegate as the hapless taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine. The show nearly closed out of town when Applegate broke her foot in an onstage misstep. But, in grand Broadway tradition, she insisted that the show go on. She went into intensive physical therapy while understudy Charlotte d’Amboise played the rest of the tryout. With help from choreographer Wayne Cilento, Applegate returned to the stage for the Broadway opening and performed a showstopping version of the Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields song “Bravest Individual” with costar Denis O’Hare. The show ran 279 performances.
The songwriting team of Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin made its Broadway debut April 27, 2006, with The Wedding Singer, a musical adaptation of the popular Adam Sandler film comedy about a musician who plays at wedding after wedding while his own love life is a mess. Directed by John Rando, the 285-performance show was an homage to 1980s pop culture, complete with a giant version of the pioneering video game Pong projected on the curtain during the intermission. Stephen Lynch played the title role, with Laura Benanti and Felicia Finley as his love interests. Rita Gardner, the original Luisa in The Fantasticks 46years earlier, had a notable role as his rapping grandmother.
Broadway veterans Kander and Ebb delved into a backstage murder mystery in Curtains, a traditional tuner that opened March 22, 2007, and won a Tony Award for leading man David Hyde Pierce as a police detective who dreams of starring in a musical. The score contained the limelight anthem “Show People.” Rupert Holmes stepped in after the death of lyricist Fred Ebb during the show’s long gestation, and composer Kander supplied his own words for the heartfelt song “I Miss the Music,” about a songwriter who has lost his partner. The show stayed for 511 performances.
Composer/lyricist/librettist Jill Santoriello worked a reported 18 years on her labor of love, a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, which finally got its Broadway debut here September 18, 2008. Despite a powerhouse performance by James Barbour as reformed alcoholic Sidney Carton, who gives his life for the girl he loves, the pop opera was judged to be too similar to Les Misérables and managed only 60 performances.
The Hirschfeld got its first true blockbuster in years with the March 31, 2009, revival of Hair, which arrived after a hot-ticket engagement at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park the previous summer. Director Diane Paulus tapped into the original spirit of the 1960s antiwar musical and had leads Gavin Creel and Will Swenson invite the audience onto the stage each night for a joyous singing of “Let the Sun Shine In.” Though the producers initially had trouble raising money in the worst days of the winter 2009 recession, Hair quickly recouped and settled in for a 519-performance run.
The holiday-themed musical Elf, based on the popular Will Ferrell movie, starred a host of reliable Broadway veterans and played from early November 2010 to early January 2011. After that came Daniel Radcliffe in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (2011), return engagements of Fela! and Elf (2012), and the premiere of what would become the Hirschfeld's longest-running tenant: Kinky Boots, which opened April 4, 2013, and ran for 2,505 performances, collecting six Tony Awards along the way, including Best Musical.