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Rodgers at Bygone Theaters

At which no-longer-extant theaters was the music of Richard Rodgers heard once upon a time? logo

Rodgers' Dearest Enemy played here in 1925
Got a nice e-mail from BroadwayBrad. "I just read your article that set out to see if a Richard Rodgers' melody had been heard in each and every Broadway theater. I was glad to see that he's been in most of them. But I had to wonder: Because Rodgers started writing professionally in 1919, his music had to have been heard in many theaters that have since been torn down. How many of those were there?"

Well, BroadwayBrad, the answer is: a sweet 16. Let's start with a show that featured both Richard Rodgers' music and lyrics. In 1962, No Strings opened at the 54th Street Theatre before heading 10 streets downtown to the more desirable Broadhurst. The former, located between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, was first the Craig, then the Adelphi, then the 54th Street. I've often thought it finally chose "54th Street" so that people could find it; after all, it was a notorious "flop house," so even the most seasoned theatergoer rarely got to go there. In 1965, it was renamed for George Abbott--who outlived it by 25 years, for the theater was razed in 1970 and Abbott didn't die until 1995 at the age of 107.

The Shubert was where Rodgers and Hart heard their first song on Broadway--"Any Old Place with You," in A Lonely Romeo in 1919--and while that house still (mercifully!) stands, the show moved to a theater that no longer exists: the Casino, once on Broadway and 39th Street. The first real Rodgers' show--Poor Little Ritz Girl in 1920--was first ensconced at the Central at Broadway and 47th (right across from what is now the tkts booth, but on the opposite side of the Palace). The Knickerbocker Theatre, once at Broadway and 38th, played host to Dearest Enemy in 1925. As you'd expect, the Garrick Theatre, formerly at 63 West 35th, housed The Garrick Gaieties in 1925 and 1926. A bit later, Rodgers must have felt as rich as a Vanderbilt when he had three shows, one after the other, at The Vanderbilt (once at 148 West 43rd): The Girl Friend and Peggy-Ann in 1926, and A Connecticut Yankee in 1927.

In 1930, Simple Simon played the Ziegfeld. Not the movie house that is now on 54th Street; that was built after the real Ziegeld Theatre, some hundreds of yards away on Sixth Avenue, was destroyed in 1967. Rent the movie of How to Murder Your Wife and in the opening minutes, during Terry-Thomas's monologue, you'll see it across the street from the New York Hilton.

The Sound of Music finished its original run at the Mark Hellinger (now the Times Square Church, dammit) and the Roundabout production of A Grand Night for Singing played the Criterion Center, since razed. But most famously, in 1935, Jumbo was at the elaborate and enormous Hippodrome--which is where the Hippodrome Parking Garage (some consolation!) now sits on 6th Avenue between 43rd and 44th.

Again, even if Rodgers didn't have a full show at other theaters, he was represented at many of them by a song or two. He had one in June Days at the Astor (the last live show to play that theater at Broadway and 45th) in 1925, before the show moved to the Central. He also had a couple of songs in Lady Fingers at the Vanderbilt in 1929, before that show moved to the Liberty, a 42nd Street house that is no more. "Blue Moon" was heard in Mum's the Word in 1940 at the Belmont, then at 48th Street between Sixth and Seventh. And Rodgers had a song in Billy Rose's Crazy Quilt in 1931 at the 44th Street Theatre, next to what is now the Helen Hayes. (The spot currently houses New York Times delivery trucks).

Speaking of the Helen Hayes--the theater that used to be at 46th near Seventh, where the Marriott Marquis now sits--Rodgers was there via a Rodgers and Hart revue in 1975. The building of the Marriott also meant the end of the Morosco on 45th near Seventh, where Rodgers had at least two songs more than 40 years apart: His "You are So Lovely and I'm So Lonely" was heard there in a play called Something Gay in 1935, and his melody for "We're Gonna Be All Right" from Do I Hear a Waltz? was heard there when Side by Side by Sondheim moved to the Morosco in 1978.

Then I got another e-mail from Iluvmusicals, who said I should have mentioned all the Broadway-sized theaters that don't quite qualify as Broadway houses but did play host to Rodgers's music. All right: Rodgers was of course heard at the New York State Theater, where he oversaw a number of revivals in the '60s, including many of his own shows: Carousel, The King and I, Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, and South Pacific. Then there's City Center, where Rodgers musicals were often revived--not to mention the fact that the theater has more recently been home to the Encores! presentations of Allegro, Pal Joey, The Boys from Syracuse, Babes in Arms, and A Connecticut Yankee.

The Times Square Church, formerly the Mark Hellinger Theatre,
where The Sound of Music played during
part of its original Broadway run
The Theatre at Madison Square Garden housed that 2001 production of Cinderella, and Town Hall did the same for By Jupiter about a decade ago. Then there's Radio City Music Hall, which has sported thousands of Rodgers's melodies over the years. Here's one example out of what must be hundreds: "You Mustn't Kick It Around" was used in 5,6,7,8 ... Dance! in 1983. But the sad irony is that Rodgers was never heard at the Roxy Music Hall, though "At the Roxy Music Hall" is one of his most felicitous melodies.

Finally, many readers wrote to say that I didn't mention "I Haven't Got a Worry in the World," which Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for Happy Birthday, a play they produced in 1946. It ran at the Broadhurst, and because I'd said that Rodgers had been represented there by America's Sweetheart, the 1952 Pal Joey revival, and the aforementioned transfer of No Strings, I didn't think it worth noting. But Ed Weissman wrote to say that he believes Happy Birthday finished its run at the Plymouth, though I had found no evidence of a Rodgers melody having been heard there. I hope he's right, for that would scratch one more theater off the list.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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