Winter Garden Theater

1634 Broadway New York

LGBT Theater District/Winter Garden 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.

Overview

The Winter Garden Theater has been home to many musicals created by members of the LGBT community over the years. Premiering here in 1957, West Side Story had a creative team in which all of the major members were gay, lesbian, or bisexual, making it the greatest collaboration of LGBT talent in Broadway history.

History

From the time of its conversion in 1910-11 from a stable into an enormous theater for musical revues, as well as its interior remodeling in 1922-23, the Winter Garden Theater has hosted an especially large number of productions that are indicative of the contributions made by the LGBT community to American musical theater. Early shows here with LGBT associations included The Passing Show of 1921 (1920-21) and The Dancing Girl (1923), with Marie Dressler; The Passing Show of 1922, with costume design by Erte and Ernest Schrapps; Topics of 1923 (1924), with costume design by Erte; Artists and Models (1925-26), a hit with costume design by Erte and George Barbier, and with actor Jay Brennan; A Night in Spain (1927), with Jay Brennan; Hold Your Horses (1933), with Ona Munson; Ziegfeld Follies of 1934, with costume design by Raoul Pene du Bois and others; and Life Begins at 8:40 (1934-35), with costume design by Raoul Pene du Bois, Irene Sharaff, and others.

In 1935-38, Vincente Minnelli was involved in four revues at the theater: At Home Abroad (1935-36), staged by and with scenic design by Minnelli, and with actors Beatrice Lillie and Ethel Waters; Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, with scenic design by Minnelli, costume design by Minnelli and Raoul Pene du Bois, and with actor Josephine Baker; The Show is On (1936-37), staged by and with production design by Minnelli, and with actors Beatrice Lillie and Charles Walters; and Hooray for What! (1937-38), staged by and with scenic design by Minnelli, and costume design by Raoul Pene du Bois. According to biographer Emanuel Levy, Minnelli was openly gay while in New York, before moving to Hollywood and becoming more closeted.

Starting in the early 1940s, the Winter Garden produced a large number of hit productions, almost all of them musicals, with many of the most important LGBT artists on Broadway. These included Sons o’Fun (1941-43), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene du Bois; Ziegfeld Follies of 1943 (1943-44), with costume design by Miles White; Mexican Hayride (1944), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter; As the Girls Go (1948-49), choreographed by Hermes Pan; Wonderful Town (1953-54), with music by Leonard Bernstein (Best Musical Tony Award), scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois (Best Scenic Design Tony Award), and with actor Cris Alexander; Plain and Fancy (1955, opened at the Mark Hellinger Theater), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois; and Bus Stop (1956, opened at the Music Box Theater) by William Inge.

Perhaps the most famous of the Winter Garden’s musicals was West Side Story (1957-59 and 1960), in which all of the major members of the creative team were gay, lesbian, or bisexual – Jerome Robbins, who directed and choreographed the show with Peter Gennaro (Best Choreography Tony Award); Leonard Bernstein, who wrote the music; Arthur Laurents, the librettist; Stephen Sondheim, the lyricist; Oliver Smith, the scenic designer (Best Scenic Design Tony Award); Irene Sharaff, the costume designer; and Jean Rosenthal, the lighting designer. The male lead, Larry Kert, was also gay, as was cast member Grover Dale.

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Later big hits at the Winter Garden, all musicals, included The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960-62), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Miles White; Carnival! (1962-63, opened at the Imperial Theater) by Michael Stewart, with costume design by Freddy Wittop; Funny Girl (1964-66), with costume design by Irene Sharaff; Mame (1966-69), based on the 1955 novel Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escape by Patrick Dennis (a pseudonym for Edward Everett Tanner III), with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, and costume design by Robert Mackintosh; Purlie (1970-71, opened at the Broadway Theater), with Linda Hopkins; Follies (1971-72), directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett (Best Direction of a Musical Tony Award), with music and lyrics by Steven Sondheim (Best Original Score Tony Award), choreography by Bennett and Bob Avian (Best Choreography Tony Award), and costume design by Florence Klotz (Best Costume Design Tony Award); and 42nd Street (1980-81), with Lee Roy Reams.

Other productions at the Winter Garden by LGBT creators included You Never Know (1938) by Rowland Leigh, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, and with actors Clifton Webb and Libby Holman; Alive and Kicking (1950), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, and with actor Jack Cassidy; Michael Todd’s Peep Show (1950-51), with costume design by Irene Sharaff; Make a Wish (1951), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, and with actor Harold Lang; Peter Pan (1954-55), directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with Mary Martin (Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award) and Cyril Ritchard (Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony Award); The Vamp (1955), with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, and with actor Will Geer; Shangri-La (1956), with costume design by Irene Sharaff, and with actors Jack Cassidy and Harold Lang; Romeo and Juliet (revival, 1956-57), with scenic and costume design by Loudon Sainthill; Ziegfeld Follies of 1957, with scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, and with actors Beatrice Lillie, Billy DeWolfe, and Harold Lang; Saratoga (1959-60), with scenic and costume design by Cecil Beaton (Best Costume Design Tony Award); Eddie Fisher at the Winter Garden (1962), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and costume design by Ray Aghayan; Pajama Tops (1963), with scenic and lighting design by Leo B. Meyer; Jimmy (1969-70), with scenic design by Oliver Smith; Liza (1974), with music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb; Gypsy (revival, 1974-75), written and directed by Arthur Laurents, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois; Pacific Overtures (1976), by John Weidman and Hugh Wheeler, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and costume design by Florence Klotz (Best Costume Design Tony Award); Fiddler on the Roof (revival, 1976-77), directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins; and Camelot (revival, 1981-82), with scenic and costume design by Desmond Heeley.

Building Information

Architect or Builder: A.V. Porter (rebuilt as American Horse Exchange); W. Albert Swasey (converted into theater); Herbert J. Krapp (interior redesigned) Year Built: 1896 (rebuilt as American Horse Exchange); 1910-11 (converted into theater); 1922-23 (interior redesigned)

Sources

Anthony W. Robins, ed., Winter Garden Theater Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1988). Charles Kaiser, The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997). Emanuel Levy, Vincente Minelli, Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009). Kim Marra and Robert A Schanke, eds., Staging Desire (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001). Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, Gay LA: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians (New York: BasicBooks, 2006).

Cover Photo

Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

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