100 Years At New Haven’s Shubert Theater
Curtain Rises on Shubert 100th Anniversary Show at New Haven Museum September 24
New Haven, Conn. (September 11, 2015) –The stage is set for a new exhibition spotlighting one of the Elm City’s most celebrated cultural institutions: “The Nation’s Greatest Hits: 100 Years of New Haven’s Shubert Theatre,” which opens Thursday, September 24, at 5:30 p.m. at the New Haven Museum. In large part celebrating the “Golden Age of Theatre,” when a young Julie Andrews and a jittery Rex Harrison premiered in “My Fair Lady,” and a decidedly buff Marlon Brando first bellowed “Hey, Stella!” in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the exhibition spotlights both the fully polished and the merely promising stars who brought glamour, drama, music and laughter to the Shubert Theatre, and New Haven, for an entire century. Admission to the opening is free.
The exhibition’s first room creates an ambience reminiscent of the “front of the house”: vintage ushers’ uniforms, special lighting effects, a “real” red carpet (which, it turns out, is a strictly custom-made item), and even a small section of theatre seating. Display cases of ephemera, including playbills and photos from some of the Shubert’s greatest triumphs, and a massive, Rolodex-style filing box, with the contact information for stars ranging from Al Jolson to Zero Mostel, provide context for the rest of the exhibit. There are also enormous blown-up photos from much-loved productions such as “Oklahoma,” “The Sound of Music,” and “The King and I,” a fascinating timeline of the theatre’s highlights, and a few surprises.
Further into the exhibition is a “backstage” atmosphere, with photos of the logistical aspects of live theatre so essential in keeping a production moving, such as riggings, ropes and lighting. The gallery is enlivened by a selection of enlarged prints from the tribute publication, “The Shubert Murals: Broadway in the Basement,” by former Shubert board chairman, Cheever Tyler. Tyler’s book captures the famed murals located backstage and in the basement of the Shubert prior to recent critical renovations, when many of them were painted over. The colorful murals were created and signed by the casts and crews of shows ranging from “Into the Woods” to” South Pacific” to other productions whose touring companies played the Shubert. There are also video clips of 100th anniversary tributes from some of the most legendary stars to have ever graced the Shubert’s stage, and an impressive display of interior and exterior photos spanning the Shubert’s history and its plans for the future.
“We’ve endeavored to create a fitting finale for the Shubert Theatre’s 100th anniversary year,” says New Haven Museum Executive Director, Margaret Anne Tockarshewsky. “The Shubert has played such a significant role in the city’s cultural history; our hope is that ‘The Nation’s Greatest Hits: 100 Years of New Haven’s Shubert Theatre,” captures some of the elegance and drama of this legendary performance space as their centennial year comes to a close.”
The Shubert Theatre has been a performing arts center presenting plays, musicals, opera, dance, classical music recitals and concerts, vaudeville, jazz artists, big bands, burlesque, and a variety of solo performances since 1914. The Shubert has hosted over 600 pre-Broadway tryouts, including over 300 world premieres and 50 American premieres, double that of any theater in New York City or any other try‑out cities like Boston, Philadelphia, or Washington.
The theater’s first world premiere was “Robinson Crusoe, Jr.” in 1916, starring Al Jolson, who was followed by the era’s legendary stars, including John and Lionel Barrymore, Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, Sara Bernhardt, Eddie Cantor, The Marx Brothers, and more. In 1943, New Haven audiences went wild over a musical comedy entitled “Away We Go,” which later became the renowned “Oklahoma!” Other premieres included “The Cain Mutiny Court Martial,” starring Henry Fonda and Lloyd Nolan, “The Desperate Hours,” with Paul Newman and Karl Malden, and “My Fair Lady.”
Many of the world’s most popular actors received their first professional acclaim at the Shubert, including Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Mary Martin, and Gene Kelly. More recently the Shubert showcased the talents of Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLaine, Andy Griffith, Jane Fonda, Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones, Liza Minnelli, Ken Howard, Robert Guillaume, and John Travolta. Although the Shubert is best known for theater, it has also played host to the greatest artists of the ballet, opera, classical, and popular music.