Before Hard Times, Promenade Was House of Hits

News   Before Hard Times, Promenade Was House of Hits
The Promenade Theatre on upper Broadway has not been a lucky house in recent seasons. Attractions such as The Thing About Men, Tea at Five, Address Unknown, Trying and In the Wings failed to impress critics or entice theatergoers. However, for much of its life as a legitimate theatre—a life that will come to an end on June 11 with the last performance of Tryst—the Promenade was home to notable works by some of America's best playwrights.

Visitors who loitered in the theatre lobby were reminded of some of those productions by the many framed posters that lined the walls: David Rabe's Hurlyburly, Sam Shepard's The Curse of the Starving Class, Terrence McNally's The Lisbon Traviata, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, Simon Gray's The Common Pursuit, Athol Fugard's The Road to Mecca and A.R. Gurney's The Cocktail Hour.

Early shows in the Promenade's history included No Place to Be Somebody, Long Day's Journey Into Night, starring Geraldine Fitzgerald, who some rate as the finest Mary Tyrone in stage history, and Godspell. Late highlights included the final performance by Eileen Heckart, in The Waverly Gallery by Kenneth Lonergan, and one of the final showings of Alan Bates, in Yasmina Reza's The Unexpected Man.

Actors, too, thrived at the address. The Lisbon Traviata and The Common Pursuit were two early successes on the c.v. of Nathan Lane. Nancy Marchand scored a defining triumph in The Cocktail Hour. Myra Carter had the role of her career in Three Tall Women. Shepard's A Lie of the Mind brought to one stage Harvey Keitel, Aidan Quinn, Amanda Plummer, Will Patton, Geraldine Page, Karen Young, James Gammon and Ann Wedgeworth. And the cast of Hurlyburly is lengendary: Keitel, Christopher Walken, Bill Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Judith Ivey, Jerry Stiller and Cynthia Nixon.

The Common Pursuit featured another notable cast: Lane, Michael Countryman, Dylan Baker and Peter Friedman, stage talents at the beginnings of their careers. The cast of Jules Feiffer's Elliot Loves , meanwhile, included Oliver Platt, Anthony Heald, Christine Baranski and David Hyde-Pierce—all relatively unknown at the time.

Perhaps karma was one of the reasons the Promenade had such good fortune in finding important plays. It was, after all, one of the few playhouses in New York history to have been named after a play. When the 1969 mounting of Al Carmine's Promenade was moved to the Upper West Side, the space was christened "The Promenade" specifically for the show. The name was never changed.

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