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Virginia Theater


Crane & Franzheim


245 W52, bet. Broadway and Eighth Ave. 




Renaissance Revival










For years after the concentration of legitimate theaters moved north of Times Square the Theater Guild, founded to present high-quality plays, was operating out of its quarters on 6th Avenue and 35th Street, the Garrick Theater, built by Ned Harrigan in 1890. The Guild, believing much of its audience was lost to the uptown theaters, commissioned its new home in 1923 and the Guild Theater, with heavy support from its patrons, was erected during 1924 to 1925. The theater's overall architecture is uninspiring and unimposing, just a bit of Tuscany dropped in Midtown Manhattan. During the 30s an impressive list of shows was produced at the Guild, though for some reason (slightly out of the way?) the theater proved to be unpopular with audiences

In 1943 the Theater Guild was forced to cede control of the theater and it was leased as a radio studio until 1950, when it was purchased by the federally-funded American National Theater and Academy, hence the theater's new name, the ANTA. With federal funding came a drop in support from patrons and ANTA became a totally subsidized house in 1968. Through the '70s the ANTA was only able to mount a couple of productions of note and was purchased by the Jujamcyn Organization in 1981 and renamed the Virginia. Since that time the theater appears to be a commercial success, with a new strategy of filling the house with smaller musicals and revues that might not survive in the larger musical theaters, but draw enough people to the Virginia's fringe location. The theater was designated a New York City landmark in 1985. The premiere show at the Guild Theater was a production of Caesar and Cleopatra on April 13, 1925

1927 Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Margalo Gillmore and Earle Larimore star for 178 performances in S N Behrman's comedy The Second Man

1927 A smash hit in its time, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward's Porgy stars Frank Wilson and Evelyn Ellis. The drama takes to the boards 367 times

1928 Despite a cast that included Alfred Lunt, Margalo Gillmore, Morris Carnovsky and Helen Travers, Eugene O'Neill's Marco Millions can't quite make it to the 100-performance mark. It closes after 97 tries

1930 Imogene Coca and Ray Heatherton make their Broadway debuts in The Garrick Gaieties, a reminder of the Theater Guild's earlier home

1930 Maxwell Anderson's Elizabeth the Queen stars Lynn Fontanne in the title role. Opposite her? Alfred Lunt, of course

1931 This isn't Oklahoma! . . . yet. Franchot Tone, June Walker and Lee Strasberg star in Lynn Riggs drama Green Grow the Lilacs, which is the basis for one of America's defining musicals

1932 S N Behrman's comedy Biography stars Ina Claire and Earle Larrimore and runs for 210 performances

1933 Elisha Cooke Jr, Ruth Gilbert and George M Cohan share the stage for 289 performances of the Eugene O'Neill comedy Ah! Wilderness

1938 It flopped the first time around: Thornton Wilder's The Merchant of Yonkers limps through 39 performances. As The Matchmaker in 1955 it has a hit run of 486 shows at the Royale and, in 1964 starts a 2,844 performance run as the now-classic Broadway musical Hello Dolly! Sometimes it's good to give a show the woman's point of view

1940 Elmer Rice's Flight to the West features Paul Henreid, Betty Field, Hugh Marlowe and Karl Malden

1951 The first half of the '50s is going to be rough for the newly-named ANTA. Peer Gynt has an all-star cast of John Garfield, Mildred Dunnock, John Randolph, Nehemiah Persoff, Sherry Britton and Karl Malden. 32 times and it's out

1951 Arlene Francis, Burgess Meredith, Melvyn Douglas and Peter Cookson take to the Guild's stage for 16 performances of Edmund Wilson's Little Blue Light

1955 Tyrone Power, Katharine Cornell, Christopher Plummer and Sydney Pollack star in 69 performances of Christopher Fry's Dark is Light Enough

1956 At last, a legitimate hit. Paddy Chaefsky's Middle of the Night stars Edward G Robinson, Gena Rowlands and Anne Jackson. The show runs for 477 performances

1958 And a musical hit. David Wayne, Jerome Cowan and Robert Morse share the stage in the Abe Burrows-Marian Bissell-Jule Styne-Betty Comden show Say Darling

1958 A show not produced by ANTA wins the Pulitzer and the Tony. Pat Hingle is between Christopher Plummer's God and Raymond Massey's Devil in Archibald MacLeish's drama JB. The show was produced by Alfred de Liagre Jr and directed by Elia Kazan

1961 Paul Scofield makes his Broadway debut and earns a Tony for his performance in A Man for All Seasons. The show and director Noel William also earn Tonys

1964 Alan Alda and Diana Sands star for 421 performances of William Manhoff's The Owl and the Pussycat

1965 The ANTA's first long-running hit is the Dale Wasserman-Mitchell Leigh-Joseph Darion musical The Man of La Mancha. The show stars Richard Kiley, runs for 2,328 performances and earns Tonys for Kiley, director Albert Marre, composer Leigh and lyricist Darion

1976 It takes some music and dance to break the ANTA out of its doldrums. Bubbling Brown Sugar, a riotous revue, features Joseph Attles, Vernon Washington, Lonnie McNeil and Carolyn Bird for 766 performances

1983 More music and more dance at the now Virginia Theater. Natalia Makarova wins a Tony as she keeps us on the edge of our seats in the Lorenz Hart-Richard Rodgers musical On Your Toes

1988 Even Betty Buckley can flop. Carrie. Bad idea. 5 shows

1989 The Larry Gelbart-Cy Coleman-David Zippel musical City of Angels wins a Tony as best musical and for Gelbart, Coleman, Zippel and for actors James Naughton and Randy Graff

1992 Jelly's Last Jam shakes up the Virginia 569 times with music by Jelly Roll Morton and performances by Savion Glover, Gregory Hines and Tonya Pinkins. Hines and Pinkins take Tonys

1995 It doesn't take much to make some people happy. The Jerry Lieber-Mike Stoller revue Smokey Joe's Cafe opened Mar 2, 1995 and audiences are still flocking to it in 1999

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