Curtain Rises on Shubert 100th Anniversary Show at New Haven Museum
The New Haven Museum is spotlighting one of the Elm City’s most celebrated cultural institutions in “The Nation’s Greatest Hits: 100 Years of New Haven’s Shubert Theatre.” Celebrating the “Golden Age of Theatre,” the exhibition spotlights both the fully polished and the merely promising stars, composers, playwrights, and others who brought glamour, drama, music, and laughter to the Shubert Theatre, and New Haven, for an entire century. The exhibition is drawn from the Shubert New Haven Archives, and is organized in partnership with the Shubert Theatre. It is made possible, in part, by The Howard Gilman Foundation, and runs through February 27, 2016. Hours vary, see website for details.
The exhibition’s first room creates an ambience reminiscent of the “front of the house”: vintage ushers’ uniforms, special lighting effects, a “real” red carpet (which, it turns out, is a strictly custom-made item), and even a small section of theatre seating. Display cases of ephemera, including playbills and photos from some of the Shubert’s greatest triumphs, and a massive, Rolodex-style filing box, with the contact information for stars ranging from Al Jolson to Zero Mostel, provide context for the rest of the exhibit. There are also enormous blown-up photos from much-loved productions such as “Oklahoma,” “The Sound of Music,” and “The King and I,” a fascinating timeline of the theatre’s highlights, and a few surprises.
Further into the exhibition is a “backstage” atmosphere, with photos and details of the logistical aspects of live theatre: the riggings, ropes and lighting so essential to keeping a production moving. Also, enlarged prints from "The Shubert Murals: Broadway in the Basement” by former Shubert board chairman, Cheever Tyler. Tyler’s book captures some of the famed murals located backstage and in the basement of the Shubert prior to the removal of many of them during critical renovations. The colorful murals, created to commemorate shows ranging from “Into the Woods” to” South Pacific,” include each show’s logo as painted on the wall by someone in each production’s touring company, signed by cast and crew members. There are also video clips of Shubert anniversary tributes from some of their most legendary stars, and an impressive display of interior and exterior photos spanning the Shubert’s history and its plans for the future.
The Shubert Theatre has been a performing arts center presenting plays, musicals, opera, dance, classical music recitals and concerts, vaudeville, jazz artists, big bands, burlesque, and a variety of solo performances since 1914. The Shubert has hosted over 600 pre-Broadway tryouts, including over 300 world premieres and 50 American premieres, double that of any theater in New York City or any other try‑out cities like Boston, Philadelphia, or Washington.
The theater’s first world premiere was “Robinson Crusoe, Jr.” in 1916, starring Al Jolson, who was followed by the era’s legendary stars, including John and Lionel Barrymore, Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, Sara Bernhardt, Eddie Cantor, The Marx Brothers, and more. In 1943, New Haven audiences went wild over a musical comedy entitled “Away We Go,” which later became the renowned “Oklahoma!” Other premieres included “The Cain Mutiny Court Martial,” starring Henry Fonda and Lloyd Nolan, “The Desperate Hours,” with Paul Newman and Karl Malden, and “My Fair Lady.”
Many of the world’s most popular actors received their first professional acclaim at the Shubert, including Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Mary Martin, and Gene Kelly. More recently the Shubert showcased the talents of Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLaine, Andy Griffith, Jane Fonda, Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones, Liza Minnelli, Ken Howard, Robert Guillaume, and John Travolta. Although the Shubert is best known for theater, it has also played host to the greatest artists of the ballet, opera, classical, and popular music.
About the New Haven Museum
The New Haven Museum, founded in 1862 as the New Haven Colony Historical Society, is located in downtown New Haven at 114 Whitney Avenue. The Museum is currently celebrating 150 years of collecting, preserving and interpreting the history and heritage of Greater New Haven. Through its collections, exhibitions, programs and outreach, the Museum brings 375 years of New Haven history to life. For more information visit www.newhavenmuseum.org or facebook.com/NewHavenMuseum.