"Joan Rivers loved Broadway and we loved her. Due to the outpouring of love and respect for Joan Rivers from our community and from her friends and fans worldwide, the marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in her memory tonight, at exactly 6:45 PM for one minute," St. Martin said in a statement issued to the press Sept. 9.
In a Sept. 8 interview with the New York Times, St. Martin initially stated that executives at the League determined that Rivers did not meet the criteria for Broadway's lights to be dimmed. "Under our criteria people need to have been very active recently in the theater, or else be synonymous with Broadway – people who made their careers here, or kept it up," St. Martin told the Times.
She added that while Rivers was supportive of the theatre community, hers was not a name that was synonymous with Broadway, adding that the decision not to dim the lights of theatre marquees in her memory was not intended as a slight.
The Times noted that in recent weeks the League dimmed Broadway's lights in memory of late actor-comedian Robin Williams, who appeared on Broadway only twice. Mr. Williams was an Academy Award recipient, but was not nominated for a Tony Award. Similarly, the League dimmed its lights in 2012 for "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini, a Tony Award nominee for God of Carnage, who was best known for his work on screen.
Rivers, who died Sept. 4 at the age of 81, earned a Best Actress Tony Award nomination for her 1994 play Sally Marr...and Her Escorts, which she co-wrote. She made her Broadway debut in Fun City in 1972 (a play she also co-wrote) and took over the role of Kate in the Broadway production of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound. In addition to her stage work, Rivers was a fixture at Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, regularly seen in the audience and posing for photos with cast members backstage. Rivers also championed the work of many in the theatre community.
A groundswell of public support for Broadway's lights to be dimmed in Rivers' honor quickly followed the New York Times report. A petition asking the League to reconsider its decision was also created.
Twitter account Annoying Actor Friend (@Actor_Friend), who provides a satirical look at what it's like to survive as a working New York actor — and is followed by numerous members of the Broadway community — was among the first to react on the social media platform.
The account tweeted Sept. 8, "If you think @TheBwayLeague should reconsider their decision not to dim the lights for Joan Rivers, tweet to them with #Dim4Joan."
Soon thereafter, Broadway figures including Audra McDonald, Harvey Fierstein, Donna Murphy, Jordan Roth, Daryl Roth, Steve Kazee and others followed in calling for the League to reverse its decision, using the hashtag #Dim4Joan.
Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn, announced that all five of his theatres would dim their lights for Rivers, with Disney's New Amsterdam Theatre, The Helen Hayes Theatre (home to Rivers' Sally Marr...and Her Escorts) quickly announcing plans to follow suit.
Off-Broadway houses, including The Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre and the Daryl Roth Theatre, also announced plans to dim their lights.
Rivers' funeral, which was held Sept. 7, featured performances by Tony Award winners Audra McDonald and Hugh Jackman as well as the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, who sang the show tunes "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" and "Big Spender." Bernadette Peters, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, Alan Cumming and Tommy Tune were among the theatre stars in attendance. In addition, the New York Police Department's Emerald Society played Kander and Ebb's "New York, New York" and the George M. Cohan classic "Give My Regards to Broadway."