This Day in the Arts — March 20 in Broadway Theatre History

Abgerissene Tage eines KalendersWe’re back on Broadway for today’s segment of This Day in the Arts, but this time we’re looking at the history of a theatre, rather than one particular production.

On March 20, 1911, the Winter Garden Theatre opened on Broadway. It had previously been a horse exchange — horses and carriages were what made “Long Acre Square” (later Times Square) popular before that time, to give way to another sort of hoofer when the building was transformed into a lavish — and large — theatre. Because of its previous purpose, there was a LOT of space across what became the stage area, and the proscenium was the widest of any theatre on Broadway. Broadway today has the Shuberts of that era to thank for the Winter Garden and other well-known theatres on the Great White Way.

I found it fascinating to read about the various productions that have been staged in this historic venue. Al Jolson, Beatrice Lillie, Fanny Brice, the Astaires, the list of well-known names that appeared onstage goes on and on. Vincente Minnelli was revue master for some time. I was particularly interested to learn that West Side Story debuted at the Winter Garden, as did Funny Girl (starring Barbra Streisand) and Mame (starring Angela Lansbury). As Joanna said in a comment on last week’s post, just reading about these performances makes a person wish to have been there to see them in person.

The Winter Garden is still resounding with song, dance, and mega hits. Cats played there for (are you ready for this?) eighteen years. Mamma Mia was one of the most recent in the theatre’s string of hits.

For more information on the Winter Garden Theatre, you may read about it at the Theatre’s page on the Shubert Organization’s website, or in a more extensive history on Playbill.

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