Walter Kerr Theater

219 W 48th St New York

LGBT Theater District/Walter Kerr 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

Ritz Theater

One gay-themed play attempted to open at the Ritz Theater despite the Wales Padlock Law (1927), which forbade the depiction of “sex perversion” on stage. Prisoners of War (1935) was the American premiere of the drama, featuring a gay character, by openly gay English writer and editor J.R. [Joe Randolph] Ackerly. After being rejected by New York reviewers, it played only eight performances. One other play at the Ritz co-written by a gay playwright was First Episode (1934) by Terence Rattigan and Philip Heimann. LGBT performers here included Alfred Lunt in Banco (1922) and Outward Bound (1924); Lynn Fontanne in In Love with Love (1923); Jay Brennan in Hassard Short’s Ritz Revue (1924); Claudette Colbert in A Kiss in a Taxi (1925); Blythe Daly in Two Seconds (1931); Spring Byington in The First Apple (1934, opened at the Booth Theater); and Ona Munson in Petticoat Fever (1935).

From 1943 to 1965, the Ritz Theater was used as a radio, and then a TV station. It was the location of Broadway commentaries by critic Alexander Woolcott. The theater was renovated in 1971. Ian McKellen appeared here in Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare (1984), winner of the Outstanding One Person Show Drama Desk Award. Penn & Teller (1987-88) had scenic design by John Lee Beatty.

Walter Kerr Theater

The theater was renovated again in 1989, and re-named the Walter Kerr Theater. This was the venue for the highly significant two-part, LGBT-themed play Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America: Perestroika (1993-94) by Tony Kushner. Millennium Approaches received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Featured Actor in a Play (Stephen Spinella), and Best Direction of a Play (George C. Wolfe); and Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding New Play, Outstanding Director of a Play, and Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play (Spinella and Joe Mantello). Perestroika received Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Featured Actor in a Play (Spinella), and Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Play and Outstanding Actor in a Play (Spinella). Other performers in the play included David Marshall Grant and Kathleen Chalfont.

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Other LGBT-associated productions at the Walter Kerr have included I Hate Hamlet (1991) by Paul Rudnick, with scenic design by Tony Straiges; Love! Valour! Compassion! (1995) by Terrence McNally (Best Play Tony Award and Outstanding Play Drama Desk Award), directed by Joe Mantello, and with actors John Glover (Best Featured Actor in a Play Tony Award), Nathan Lane (Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play Drama Desk Award), and John Benjamin Hickey; Present Laughter (revival, 1996-97) and Waiting in the Wings (1999-2000) by Noel Coward, with scenic design by Ray Klausen; A Moon for the Misbegotten (revival, 2000) with Cherry Jones; and Proof (2000-2003), a big hit, with scenic design by John Lee Beatty.

Building Information

Architect or Builder: Herbert J. Krapp Year Built: 1921

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).

Cover Photo

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

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