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The Imperial Theater has had a long history of LGBT-associated productions. One play with an LGBT theme was produced here after the repeal in 1967 of the Wales Padlock Law (1927), which forbade the depiction of “sex perversion” on the New York stage. In 1969, the Imperial produced the 1965 play A Patriot for Me by English playwright John Osborne, directed by Peter Glenville, with scenic design by Oliver Smith and costume design by Freddy Wittop (Outstanding Costume Design Drama Desk Award). It was based on the true story of Alfred Redl, a homosexual officer in the Austro-Hungarian intelligence service in the 1890s, who was blackmailed by the Russians. The climax of the play was a ball with Viennese society figures in drag. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office had denied it a performance license in England.
There have been three enormous LGBT-associated hits here: Fiddler on the Roof (1964-67), directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins (Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography Tony Awards), with actor Leonard Frey; Cabaret (1967-68; opened at the Broadhurst Theater; Best 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 Ebb (Best Composer and Lyricist Tony Award), and with Joel Grey (Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony Award); and Dreamgirls (1981-85), with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen (Best Book of a Musical Tony Award), music by Henry Krieger, and choreography by Michael Bennett and Michael Peters (Best Choreography Tony Award).
Other substantial hits at the Imperial were Let’s Face It (1941-43), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, and choreography by Charles Walters; Rosalinda (1943), with scenic design by Oliver Smith (opened at the 44th Street Theater); One Touch of Venus (1943-44), with costume design by Kermit Love and Paul Du Pont, and with actor Mary Martin; Ziegfeld Follies of 1943 (1944), with costume design by Miles White (opened at the Winter Garden Theater); Call Me Madam (1950-52), with dances and musical numbers staged by Jerome Robbins, and with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois; Wish You Were Here (1952-53), with costume design by Robert Mackintosh, and with actor Jack Cassidy; Silk Stockings (1955-56), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter; Jamaica (1957-59), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, costume design by Miles White, and dancer Alvin Ailey; Destry Rides Again (1959-60) by Leonard Gershe, with production design by Oliver Smith; Gypsy (1960-61) by Arthur Laurents, directed by Jerome Robbins, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois (opened at the Broadway Theater); Carnival! (1961-63) by Michael Stewart, with costume design by Freddy Wittop, and with actor James Mitchell; Oliver (1963-64), with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart (Best Composer and Lyricist Tony Award); Chapter Two (1977-79), with scenic design by William Ritman; The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985-87) with Howard McGillin and George Rose (Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award); and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (1989-90), directed by Jerome Robbins and Grover Dale, choreographed by Robbins, with scenic design by Oliver Smith and others, and costume design by Irene Sharaff, Raoul Pene Du Bois, Miles White and others, and with dancer Robert La Fosse.
Shows with LGBT creators and performers here have also included Flying Colors (1932-33) with Clifton Webb and Patsy Kelly; Jubilee (1935-36), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, and with actors Montgomery Clift and Charles Walters; On Your Toes (1936) by George Abbott, Lorenz Hart, and Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Hart, and costume design by Irene Sharaff, and with actor Monty Woolley; Between the Devil (1937-38) with Charles Walters; Leave It to Me! (1938-39), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, and with actors Mary Martin and Sophie Tucker; Too Many Girls (1939-40), with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, and with actor Van Johnson; Along Fifth Avenue (1949), with scenic design by Oliver Smith (opened at the Broadhurst Theater); Miss Liberty (1949-50), with scenic and lighting design by Oliver Smith; Peter Pan (1950), with music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein, and with actors Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff; John Murray Anderson’s Almanac (1953-54), with scenic design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, and with actors Billy De Wolfe and Carleton Carpenter; By the Beautiful Sea (1954), with costume design by Irene Sharaff (opened at the Majestic Theater); Zorba (1968-69), with music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb; On the Town (revival, 1971-72), with music by Leonard Bernstein, and costume design by Bob Mackie and Ray Aghayan, and with actor Remak Ramsey; Lost in the Stars (revival, 1972), with scenic design by Oliver Smith; and Cabaret (revival, 1987-88) 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 Ebb, and with actor Joel Grey.
Architect or Builder: Herbert J. Krapp Year Built: 1923
“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. Imperial Theater Interior Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1987). Internet Broadway Database.
Credit: Sarah Sargent/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2019.