Star Names on Broadway Marquees

PlayBlog   Star Names on Broadway Marquees
 
Soon to be running around loose in the Green Day musical, American Idiot, is a character played by Tony Vincent named St. Jimmy — and, aptly enough, he has found a home on Broadway at the St. James Theatre. Previews start March 24.


It got us thinking about Broadway houses named after Broadway stars, and the ego and bravery it takes to appear in a play in a theatre that has your name out front.

The Shuberts named their West 47th Street theatre after Ethel Barrymore and invited her to open it in a vehicle of her choice Dec. 20, 1928. She chose The Kingdom of God by Gregorio Martinez Sierra and came back for the next three seasons, each time in a new opus: playing "She" to Louis Calhern's "He" in The Love Duel in 1929, Sister Mary in Scarlet Sister Mary in 1930 and Lady Teazle in The School of Scandal. Her last play there, An International Incident, ran 15 performances in 1940, not the best year for a comedy with that kind of title.

When Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne made their last visit to Broadway — in Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit — the theatre in which they performed (a radically renovated movie grind-house named the Globe Theatre, after Shakespeare's) was rechristened the Lunt-Fontanne on opening night, May 5, 1958.

Their friend, Helen Hayes, had her own namesake theatre directly across the street from the Lunt-Fontanne, and at their opening she presented them with a cartoon she'd commissioned for the occasion to welcome them to the neighborhood. It had Hayes tossing a bouquet of flowers across 46th Street to The Lunts, singing a popular ditty of the day: "Oh, the towering feeling, just to be on the street where you live." The drawing still adorns the wall of Hayes' guest room at The Lunts' Ten Chimneys.

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Before Nov. 21, 1955, when the theatre was renamed for the First Lady of the American Theatre, the Hayes was the Fulton. In the 27 years it bore her name, the actress only worked the house once — for Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet (Oct. 2, 1958-June 13, 1959). The marquee probably contributed to the feud she was having at the time with her co-star, Kim Stanley, who would occasionally freeze and close her eyes on stage when Hayes would speak her lines.

Hayes outlived her namesake theatre, which was struck by the wrecking ball in 1982 (along with the Morosco and the Bijou) to make way for the Marriott Marquis Hotel, so, to offset the awkward, embarrassing nature of her living longer than her monument, The Little Theatre on West 44th was redubbed The Helen Hayes Theatre. Her appearance at the dedication ceremony was the only that she "played" the place.

The Alvin Theatre on West 52nd Street, built in 1927 and named for producers ALex Aarons and VINton Freedley, turned into the Neil Simon Theatre on June 29, 1983, while it was playing his Brighton Beach Memoirs. His second quasi-autobiographical play, Biloxi Blues, followed it into the Simon, as did his play, Jake's Women, seven years later. At the rechristening ceremonies, the playwright said all the hoopla was inspiring him to write a play called Neil Simon, so it would then be Neil Simon by Neil Simon at the Neil Simon.

— Harry Haun

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