The devastating March 25, 1911, Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York's Greenwich Village helped galvanize the public's sympathy for the plight of garment workers, 146 of whom died in a fire that swept through their crowded sweatshop.
About a quarter century later, in the midst of the Great Depression, the then-powerful International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) backed a Broadway musical, Pins and Needles, which took a lighthearted and pro-labor look at the lives of the workers in a changing society. It was the first Broadway show to be backed by a (non-theatrical) labor union, and wound up running more than 1,400 performances and touring in numerous and ever-changing editions.
Through March 27, to coincide with the 105th anniversary of the fire, NYU Steinhardt’s Program in Vocal Performance is presenting a “revival and restoration” of Pins and Needles at the Provincetown Playhouse, which lies just a few blocks from the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building (which, incidentally, still stands). The fire is depicted in another musical, Rags.
In honor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire anniversary, there is a special performance March 25 at 8 PM followed by a short talkback featuring labor representatives from theatrical unions.
Pins and Needles features music and lyrics by Harold Rome (Fanny, Wish You Were Here, Destry Rides Again), with sketch material by Joseph Schrank. Meg Bussert directs. The 1937 show was cast with ILGWU workers, who rehearsed after work and performed Friday and Saturday nights at the Princess Theatre in New York City. The show’s success was such that the cast ultimately abandoned their day jobs to embrace a full performance schedule of eight shows per week.
The original production never got a cast album, but a studio album produced in 1962 featured a pre-Funny Girl Barbra Streisand.
The 2016 cast features NYU Steinhardt students Catherine Ang, Jack Flatley, Molly Gallagher, Alex Guhde, Hayley Jackowitz, Elena Juliano, Stephanie Meadowcroft, Chris Price, James Rose, Matt Ross, Wayne Shuker, and Jacqui Sirois.
According to production notes, Bussert, a Tony Award nominee and Theater World Award winner, together with the show’s musical orchestrator and supervisor Joseph Church (music director and supervisor for The Lion King and The Who’s Tommy) were granted permission by the Harold Rome estate to review the original material and fashion an evening of interest today while retaining the unique mix of topics and music. In that vein, Church has written new orchestrations that honor the unique style and humor of Harold Rome's songwriting.
The NYU Pins and Needles features choreography by Maria Malanga, music direction by Joshua Cullen, music supervision and orchestration by Joseph Church, scenic design by Brittany Vasta, lighting design by Cheyenne Sykes, costume design by Rose Bisogno and props design by Alberto Ruiz. The production stage manager is Kat Gavornik.
Remaining performance times are 8 PM on March 25, 3 PM and 8 PM March 26, and 3 PM March 27. The Provincetown Playhouse is located at 133 Macdougal Street, between West 3rd and West 4th streets. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $5 for students and seniors. For tickets, contact the NYU Box Office at tickets.nyu.edu, call the box office at (212) 998-4941 or visit in person at 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South.