The Shuberts envisioned the Imperial Theatre to serve as home to musical theatre hits. It was built to replace the Shubert’s out-of-date Lyric Theatre, and it continues to be the Shubert’s pride and joy.
The Imperial opened in 1923 with the show Mary Jane McKane, followed by the most profitable Broadway production of the 1920s, the operetta Rose-Marie (1924). In 1926, Gertrude Lawrence starred in George and Ira Gershwin’s Oh, Kay! It included the timeless song, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Another hit was staged at the theatre on September 19, 1928: Sigmund Romberg’s splendid operetta The New Moon. The operetta was filled with treasured songs such as “Wanting You,” “Lover, Come Back To Me,” “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” “Stouthearted Men,” and “One Kiss.”
Hits of the 1930s included Moss Hart and Cole Porter’s Jubilee (1935), which premiered the famous show tunes “Begin the Beguine” and “Just One of Those Things.” In 1938, Mary Martin made her Broadway debut in Cole Porter’s Leave It to Me. In the song “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” she was backed up by Gene Kelly, who was in the chorus. In the 1940s, Irving Berlin had four of his major successes staged here: Louisiana Purchase (1940), Annie Get Your Gun (1946), Miss Liberty (1949), and Call Me Madam (1950). In 1964, Fiddler on the Roof made history with the help of luminary Zero Mostel. The production went on to become the longest running musical at that time on Broadway.
Triumphs of the 1970s include Bob Fosse’s production of Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin (1972) featuring Ben Vereen. On December 20, 1981, the musical Dreamgirls opened at the Imperial. It was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and won six. In 2003, the Peter Allen musical biography, The Boy From Oz starring Australian actor Hugh Jackman, opened at the Imperial. Jackman won the Tony for his portrayal of Allen. The Tony Award-winning production of Nice Work if You Can Get It, featuring Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara, opened at the theatre in 2012.
Other distinguished productions include The Most Happy Fella, Oliver!, Cabaret, Zorba, and August: Osage County.
Herbert Krapp designed the Imperial Theatre in his characteristic Adam-style. The sunken ceiling and ornate panels that adorn the walls are intricately decorated with numerous themes, including floral designs. The rectangular auditorium is wider than it is deep so that most patrons feel closer to the performers.
The Shuberts dream for the Imperial Theatre to present spectacular musical theatre has been more than fulfilled. This venue has had an almost unbroken thread of legitimate Broadway hits. The award-winning Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Tony Award-winning Billy Elliot, and the smash hit Les Miserables are only a few of the sensational musical productions that have graced the Imperial’s stage. Popular twentieth century composers whose creations have been housed here include Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne, Harold Arlen, and George and Ira Gershwin. Luminaries who have lit up the Imperial stage include Ethel Merman, Ray Bolger, Mary Martin, Zero Mostel, Jerry Orbach, Bernadette Peters, Ben Vereen, John Lithgow, and Hugh Jackman. The Imperial is the theatre of choice among producers because of its excellent sightlines and perfect acoustics.
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