Bernard B. Jacobs Theater

242 W 45th St New York

LGBT Theater District/Bernard B. Jacobs Theater
NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
Written By NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

The first initiative to document historic and cultural sites associated with the LGBT community in New York City, illustrating the richness of the city's history and the community's influence on America.

History

This venue was originally known as the Royale Theater. In its earliest years, the Royale produced four LGBT-associated shows: Oh, Ernest! (1927), a musical based on The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde; The Street Singer (1930, opened at the Shubert Theater), a Busby Berkeley musical with costume design by Orry Kelly and George Barbier, and with actor Cesar Romero; Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds (1930) with Ethel Waters; and When Ladies Meet (1932-33), by and staged by Rachel Crothers, and with actor Spring Byington. From 1934 to 1936, it was named the John Golden Theater (not to be confused with the Theatre Masque, which was re-named the John Golden Theater in 1937). Ghosts (1936) was performed here, directed by and starring Alla Nazimova, who was renowned for her work in Ibsen plays. In 1936, it became the Royale Theater again, but was leased to CBS as a radio station. It returned to use as a legitimate theater in 1940.

The biggest single hit with LGBT associations at the Royale was Cactus Flower (1965-68), with scenic design by Oliver Smith. Other big hits included Du Barry Was a Lady (1940, opened at the 46th Street Theater), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, and scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, and with actor Charles Walters; The Corn is Green (1941-42, opened at the National Theater) by Emlyn Williams; The Glass Menagerie (1946, opened at the Playhouse Theater) by Tennessee Williams, and with actor Laurette Taylor; The Matchmaker (1955-56) by Thornton Wilder; A Day in Hollywood/ A Night in the Ukraine (1980-81, opened at the John Golden Theater), directed by Tommy Tune, and choreographed by Tune and Thommie Walsh (Best Choreography Tony Award); Lend Me a Tenor (1989-90), with costume design by William Ivey Long (Outstanding Costume Design Drama Desk Award), and with actor Victor Garber; An Inspector Calls (1994-95), with scenic and costume design by Ian MacNeil; and Art (1998-99) with Victor Garber.

Other productions by LGBT creators here included The Fatal Weakness (1946-47) by George Kelly; The Importance of Being Earnest (revival, 1947) by Oscar Wilde, and with actor John Gielgud; Love for Love (revival, 1947), staged by John Gielgud, and with Gielgud and Cyril Ritchard; The Madwoman of Chaillot (1949-50, opened at the Belasco Theater), with scenic and costume design by Christian Berard; Dance Me a Song (1950), a revue with sketches by James Kirkwood, Vincente Minnelli, Wally Cox, and others, costume design by Irene Sharaff, and with actors Kirkwood and Cox; The Lady’s Not for Burning (1950-51), directed by and with John Gielgud, with décor by Oliver Messel; Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952 (1952-53), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, and with actor Paul Lynde; Child of Fortune (1956), with scenic and lighting design by Robert O’Hearn; Becket (1960-61, opened at the St. James Theater), with scenic design by Oliver Smith (Best Scenic Design Tony Award), and with actor Laurence Olivier; The Night of the Iguana (1961-62) by Tennessee Williams, with scenic design by Oliver Smith; Lord Pengo (1962-63), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and with actors Brian Bedford and Agnes Moorehead; The Chinese Prime Minister (1964), with scenic design by Oliver Smith; The Owl and the Pussycat (1965, opened at the ANTA Playhouse), with costume design by Florence Klotz; All in Good Time (1965), with costume design by Peter Harvey; The Man in the Glass Booth (1968-69), with scenic design by Ed Wittstein; and Duet for One (1981-82), with scenic design by John Lee Beatty.

The Immoralist (1954), based on the novel by Andre Gide, was about a gay male archaeologist who marries hoping to change to become straight, but is seduced by an Arab houseboy, played by James Dean (Theatre World Award; Dean left the cast after the opening, to film East of Eden). It is considered by some a landmark play in the manner that it addresses the homophobic attitudes confronting its characters.

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LGBT performers at the Royale included Judith Anderson (Best Actress in a Play Tony Award) and John Gielgud in Medea (revival, 1947-48, opened at the National Theater); Maurice Evans in The Devil’s Disciple (revival, 1950); Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer (1958); Coral Browne in The Rehearsal (1963); Sandy Dennis in How the Other Half Loves (1971); James Coco in You Can’t Take It With You (revival, 1983-84, opened at the Plymouth Theater); and Christopher Sieber in Triumph of Love (1997-98).

Building Information

Architect or Builder: Herbert J. Krapp Year Built: 1926-27

Sources

“The 1st List of: Gay/Lesbian/Bi Industry People, Both in Front and Behind the Camera,” www.imdb.com, May 31, 2013. 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. Internet Broadway Database. Kaier Curtin, “We Can Always Call Them Bulgarians”: the Emergence of Lesbians and Gay Men on the American Stage (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1987). Royale Theater Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1987).

Cover Photo

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

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