The Gershwin Theatre was named to honor one of America’s famous composers, George Gershwin, and one of its best lyricists, his brother, Ira. On November 28, 1972, the Gershwin opened as the Uris Theatre and it incorporated six levels of the Uris Building. It was the first new legitimate Broadway venue constructed since 1928. It is one of the Nederlander Organization’s nine Broadway theatres and is located in the Paramount Plaza building.
Majestic Shows in a Majestic House
The Uris opened in 1972 with Via Galactica, a space musical featuring Raul Julia. It was an unpromising beginning for the theatre, closing after only seven performances and losing over one million dollars. Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s thrilling hit production of Sweeney Todd, with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou, also played at the theatre in the 1970s. In 1979, the show won eight coveted Tony Awards. Also earlier in the ‘70s, the Houston Grand Opera staged its stimulating revival of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and the musical won a Tony Award for Best Revival. Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha, another Houston Grand Opera production, opened at the theatre and proved to be the most innovative show of the season.
Rodger and Hammerstein’s The King and I, starring Yul Brynner and Constance Towers, was revived in 1977. The New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Pirates of Penzance featuring Kevin Kline in 1981 was a Tony Award-winning hit. Rex Harrison, Nancy Ringham, Milo O’ Shea and Cathleen Nesbitt starred in the lavish revival of My Fair Lady that same year. In 1982, America’s beloved curly-haired redhead skipped into the theatre as the musical Annie took the stage. In 1983, Donald O’ Connor sailed the timeless musical Showboat into the theatre.
On June 5, 1983, during the Tony Awards program, the venue was renamed the Gershwin. Comden and Green adapted their original MGM film, Singin’ in the Rain, for the stage in 1985. This production was acclaimed for featuring a real rain effect on stage. In 1987, trained skaters skyrocketed into the theatre onto a brilliant set designed by John Napier for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe’s Starlight Express. In 1990, the extravagant Meet Me In St. Louis arrived at the Gershwin.
A Contemporary Design
Ralph Alswang designed the Gershwin Theatre in a sumptuous Art Nouveau style. He designed it to signify his whole idea for what a contemporary musical and comedy theatre should be: complete with excellent sight lines, top-notch acoustics, and plentiful seating. The theatre is located at the front of a large office facility that was constructed on the former location of the Capitol Theatre. With a massive seating capacity of 1,900, the auditorium is located on the second floor which can be reached via escalators. Since most patrons desire orchestra seating, there are more seats downstairs and fewer in a small balcony along with protruding side sections instead of box seats. Dark proscenium panels function as light towers, which are removable. The stage floor is flexible and can be taken apart or extended into a thrust stage. The Gershwin utilized the first water curtain in theatre history, which is used in case of a fire on stage. The Gershwin also houses the Broadway Theater Hall of Fame, which is located in a special oval room in the lobby.
Twenty Years of Legends
The Gershwin Theatre has staged outstanding performances for over fifty years, including Oklahoma!, Wicked, and Fiddler on the Roof, in which Topol played Tevye. That production won the Tony Award for Best Revival. It has successfully housed many dance companies and concerts by numerous luminaries, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald.