Category Archives: Theatre History

Oh What A Beautiful Opening!

Dear Friends,

The Theatre Guild was founded in New York City in 1919 by my (Philip) father Lawrence Langner, Philip Moeller, Helen Westley, Maurice Wertheim, Lee Simonson, and Theresa Helburn. My (Philip) mother, Armina Marshall served as a co-director. The Theatre Guild evolved out of the work of the Washington Square Players and departed from the usual theatre practice in that its board of directors shared the responsibility for choice of plays, management, and production and is known for the production of high-quality, noncommercial American and foreign plays. Our first production was the play “Bonds of Interest”, which opened April 14, 1919 at the Garrick Theatre.

Since last week marked our 100th Anniversary, we found it fitting that a revival of our most successful musical, Oklahoma!, opened to rave reviews. This production, directed by Daniel Fish, was originally developed, produced, and premiered at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College.

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Ben Brantley of the New York Times writes:

How is it that the coolest new show on Broadway in 2019 is a 1943 musical usually regarded as a very square slice of American pie? The answer arrives before the first song is over in Daniel Fish’s wide-awake, jolting and altogether wonderful production of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” which opened on Sunday night at the Circle in the Square Theater.

To read the full review, click here.
Oklahoma! is playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre. To buy tickets, click here or on the picture above.

Best regards,
Philip & Marilyn

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The Saddest Good-bye

Dear Friends,

It is with very heavy hearts that we are writing to you today. We received the devastating news that our beloved Director/Stage Manager, Ron Nash, has passed away.

Ron and his husband Norman are very dear to us and have joined us on many adventures over the years. Ron’s death was very sudden and so shocking that it seems surreal to us that he is gone.

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photo credit: Norman Duttweiler

Good bye, dear friend. We love you—your happy spirit, magnificent creativity, and brilliance will certainly be missed. Your passing has created a void in so many who have the privilege of knowing you, but your kindness and wonderfulness will never be forgotten.

Our love and deepest sympathies go out to Norman.

Love,
Philip & Marilyn

PS—below is Ron’s official biography, which shows but a sampling of all the great work that he did.

RON NASH lists among his directorial and design credits national tours of Song of Singapore starring Loretta Swit, The Wiz starring Peabo Bryson and Grace Jones, Murder Among Friends starring Lana Turner, Tammy Grimes, and Arlene Dahl, Janus starring Joan Fontaine, Dreamgirls starring pop vocalist Mikki Howard, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas starring Stella Parton, and Under Milkwood starring Judith Light. He directed a new production of Shirley Valentine starring Loretta Swit in Toronto. Mr. Nash also co-directed the Broadway production of Oh! Calcutta!, which ranks as the fifth longest running musical on Broadway, as well as productions in Tokyo, Oslo, Tel Aviv, Milan, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, and Chicago. Mr. Nash has been a Production Stage Manager on Broadway for 12 years, as well as with the New York Shakespeare Festival for 7 productions. Mr. Nash also directs and coordinates productions for the Theatre Guild’s cruises on the Mediterranean and the Amazon, with celebrities such as Helen Hayes, Patrice Munsel, Claire Bloom, Patricia Neal, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, Alan Arkin, Sandy Duncan, Cliff Robertson, Judy Kaye, Zoe Caldwell, Lynn Redgrave, Jean Stapleton, Carol Channing, and Gena Rowlands. He directed 5 time Emmy Award winner Ed Asner in FDR and toured with him to over 150 American cities. He toured for 3 years with both Jean Stapleton and Loretta Swit in different productions of Eleanor: Her Secret Journey. He served as Artistic Director at the Forestburgh Playhouse, in which capacity he directed over 25 shows including A Christmas Carol, The Sunshine Boys, Deathtrap, Witness for the Prosecution, 1776, On Golden Pond, Driving Miss Daisy, Ragtime, Titanic, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, The Diary of Anne Frank, Miss Saigon, West Side Story, South Pacific, Dial M for Murder, Born Yesterday, Carousel, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Broadway Bound, M. Butterfly, The Night of the Iguana, The Chosen and Equus. Since 2014, he has lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico with his husband Norman Duttweiler and has guest lectured at New Mexico State University and guest directed a local production of The Laramie Project. Mr. Nash holds an M.F.A. from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of Actors’ Equity and the Society of Directors and Choreographers.

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Rolling Back To Broadway

Dear Friends,

As we already announced in December, our beloved Oklahoma! is making its 5th appearance on Broadway—and previews are only a few weeks away! At the time we wrote to you, tickets were not on sale—but they are now! Click here for tickets.

In 1940, the Theatre Guild decided it would like to make a musical from the play it had previously produced, called Green Grow the Lilacs. They invited Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II to write the musical which became, as you know, Oklahoma!.

Our original production, which opened on March 31, 1943, was by far our most successful Broadway hit, playing for five years (2,200 performances) in its original run! It was so popular we actually had to hire NYPD to handle the lines of ticket buyers!

This most recent production will be at the Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th Street) with previews starting March 19th, opening on April 7th, and closing on September 01, 2019.

Don’t miss out on this extraordinary musical! Click on the picture below to purchase tickets
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Best,
Philip & Marilyn Langner

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Saving The Drama

Dear Friends,

We can’t tell you how happy we were when we heard the news that the “Hamilton Team” were purchasing The Drama Book Store to prevent it from closing permanently. In a recent New York Times article, the new owners—Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Jeffrey Seller; and James L. Nederlander—cited the book store as having played an important role in their lives and we couldn’t agree more!

We have lost count of the numerous times in our 100 years that we have frequented the Drama Book Store looking for our next inspiration for our 228 plays on Broadway. We were deeply saddened to hear that it might close and breathed a huge sigh of relief when the news broke last month that it would be saved!

We understand that the book store is currently closed while the new owners search for a new home. And when they do, you can bet we’ll be one of the first in line celebrating.

To read more about it, click here and here.

Thank you Hamilton Team for your wonderful help in saving this immeasurable support network for the theatre district. We salute you!

Best,
Philip & Marilyn Langner

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The Kennedy Center

Dear Friends,

Last week, we watched the Kennedy Center Honors and we thought we might share with you a newsletter we wrote several years ago about our connection with the Kennedy Center.

To watch the full broadcast of this year’s Honors, click here to go to CBS https://www.cbs.com/shows/kennedy_center_honors/

Happy New Year!
Philip & Marilyn Langner

 

Dear Friends,

Today we want to tell you about the Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.–a GREAT U.S. theatre!

We have been thinking about the Kennedy Center since we saw President and Mrs. Obama attending a performance there recently.

We were very involved in opening the Kennedy Center because The Theatre Guild was designated as the subscription organization for the Kennedy Center theatre-goers to subscribe to each winter series of plays.

We began in 1971 and had a subscription audience of 15,000 members.  We remained at the Center for 15 years, and during that time we also presented some of our own plays there.

The Eisenhower Theatre is great for plays and musicals, with a seating capacity of 1,161!  It is a lovely theatre and one of the very best places to bring a play.

eisenhower theatre

It’s a wonderful historic theatre that has come into existence in our lifetime.  According to The Kennedy Center’s Archives:

Two months after President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Congress designated the National Cultural Center (designed by Edward Durell Stone) as a “living memorial” to Kennedy, and authorized $23 million to help build what was now known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Fundraising continued at a swift pace–with much help coming from the Friends of the Kennedy Center volunteers, who fanned out across the nation to attract private support and nations around the world began donating funds, building materials, and artworks to assist in the project’s completion. In December 1964, President Lyndon Johnson turned the first shovelful of earth at the Center’s construction site, using the same gold-plated spade that had been used in the groundbreaking ceremonies for both the Lincoln Memorial in 1914 and the Jefferson Memorial in 1938.

From its very beginnings, the Kennedy Center has represented a unique public/private partnership. As the nation’s living memorial to President Kennedy, the Center receives federal funding each year to pay for maintenance and operation of the building, a federal facility. However, the Center’s artistic programs and education initiatives are paid for almost entirely through ticket sales and gifts from individuals, corporations, and private foundations.

The Center made its public debut on September 8, 1971, with a gala opening performance featuring the world premiere of a Requiem mass honoring President Kennedy, a work commissioned from the legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. The occasion enabled Washington to begin earning a reputation as a cultural hub as well as a political one; as The New York Times wrote in a front-page article the next morning, “The capital of this nation finally strode into the cultural age tonight with the spectacular opening of the $70 million [Kennedy Center]…a gigantic marble temple to music, dance, and drama on the Potomac’s edge.”

The Center’s presence also enabled Washington to become an international stage, hosting the American debuts of the Bolshoi Opera and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, as well as the first-ever U.S. performances by Italy’s legendary La Scala opera company.

To read and learn more about the Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts, visit their website.

Best regards,

Philip & Marilyn

 

 

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A Shakespeare Christmas on Broadway

Dear Friends,

As we head into this last weekend before Christmas, we are reminded of Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, involving twins Viola and Sebastian who are separated in a shipwreck. In the spirit of Epiphany (or the Twelfth Night of Christmas), Viola disguises herself as a man, falls in love with Count Orsino, has Lady Olivia fall in love with her in disguise, and hilarity ensues.

We presented the Twelfth Night on Broadway the Winter Season of 1940-41 at the St. James Theatre starring Helen Hayes and Maurice Evans. It was 129 performances of Shakespeare comedic bliss!

 

 

It’s hard to imagine that was 78 years ago! Time surely flies when you’re having fun in the theatre!

Merry Christmas and warm wishes for a happy holiday season!
Philip & Marilyn Langner

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Oklahoma….OK!

Dear Friends,

Big things are happening next year!

In additional to our 100th Anniversary, we are so excited that our beloved Oklahoma! –the biggest hit we ever produced—is returning to Broadway! This will be the sixth time since we opened the musical at the St. James Theatre in 1943 that it has appeared on Broadway.

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Previews will begin March 19, 2019 and it will open April 7th at the Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th Street). It will be a limited run, closing on September 01, 2019.

Tickets are not currently available, but will be released January 05, 2019.  Click on the picture above for more information.

Best,
Philip & Marilyn

PS–if you’re interested in reading more about Oklahoma!‘s history, here are a handful of our posts over the years:

  1. Oklahoma!
  2. A Match Made In Music
  3. Green Grow The Lilacs
  4. The Lift of a Lifetime
  5. Broadway Hit!

 

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Tickets Flourishing

Dear Friends,

It’s time for our yearly talk about ticket prices on Broadway.

Our favorite comparison, which we remember well, is when the Broadway ticket prices skyrocketed from $4.80 to $5.75. Can you believe that the producers were terribly worried that Broadway would crumble at that sharp increase in ticket prices!!!!

At any rate, those $5.75 tickets would cost $80.68 today (based on the inflation rate). This $80.86 price is two-thirds of the current ticket price, which seems to be holding steady at $125.00 per ticket.

We find it interesting that in those days we felt that Broadway might come to an end because there were only so many seats in a theatre, whereas most other goods and services could expand to meet the higher demand.

All our worries were unfounded because Broadway is flourishing, both in terms of average ticket price and number of viewers going to shows. Who knew?!?

And, Hurray!

Best regards,
Philip & Marilyn Langner

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Actors’ Strike of 1919

Dear Friends,

Today we’d like to tell you about an exciting Theatre Guild happening that took place on Broadway in 1919.

Actors’ Equity Association was formed by Broadway actors in 1913. After they were formed, they started approaching theatrical producers  to arrange contracts for their actors with each of them. The producers and Equity were not able to come to an agreement–with one notable exception–and in 1919 the Broadway actors decided to strike.

Happily The Theatre Guild was that one notable exception who chose to recognize Actors’ Equity and agree to a contract. The result was that The Theatre Guild was the only producer with a play running on Broadway during the strike.

The play was John Ferguson running at the Fulton Theatre on 46th Street, and it became a huge sell-out lasting for six months!

According to my father, Lawrence, “I was looking for a play for us to produce and I picked a book off the shelf—little thinking that I held the future of the new Theatre Guild in my hand! It was just the play we were looking for! My fellow Board members were all as excited about the play as I was and we decided to produce it at once.”

Wasn’t it fortuitous that The Guild had a sensible reaction to actors on Broadway wanting to have a union, and what a happy result!

Best wishes,
Philip & Marilyn Langner

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The Power of Theatre

Dear Friends,

One more prior newsletter to share with you before we head back to New York City and the realities of summer coming to an end.

We cannot—CANNOT—stress the importance that the theatre can—and should!—have in the political realm. The tradition started with Shakespeare himself, and who knows, perhaps even before that!

Our friend Arthur Miller once said that it is the job of an artist to remind people of what they have chosen to forget. And in this political climate, nothing could be more true!

Best,
Philip & Marilyn

The Theatre Guild Newsletter

Dear Friends,

Today we wanted to discuss with you an incredible theatre happening that occurred a couple of weeks ago:

It is the conflict between The Theatre, as represented by Hamilton, and the Government-to-be, as represented by Vice-President Elect Mike Pence.

As you all know, Vice President-Elect Pence went to a performance of Hamilton where he was specifically addressed by the cast at the end of the performance (their spokesperson being Brandon Dixon).

Mr. Dixon made a plea to Vice President-Elect Pence–as a representative of our new government starting 20th of January.  The cast requested that Vice President-Elect Pence look out for their interests, aka those of the common people.  While Mr. Pence was walking out of the theatre at the time of the speech, he stopped and listened to what Mr. Harris had to say.

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To us, it is a fascinating happening.  It is The Theatre…

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