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Theater Stories: AIN'T TOO PROUD, The Premiere of PIPPIN, The Debut of Mary Martin & More About The Imperial Theatre

Whether a theater has a history that's a hundred years old or closer to forty, every Broadway theater tells a story, each one filled with fun facts you never knew!

Theater Stories: AIN'T TOO PROUD, The Premiere of PIPPIN, The Debut of Mary Martin & More About The Imperial Theatre

It is impossible to walk into a Broadway theatre, or simply just think of a Broadway theatre, without immediately connecting a memory to it. Every Broadway theatre is filled with a rich and colorful history, brimming over with stories of the stars who graced its staged, legends that were made within its walls, and the feelings we all have of looking back and thinking "I saw a Tony winning performance in that theater" or "I wish I'd seen that performance in that theater."

Whether a theater has a history that's a hundred years old or closer to forty, every Broadway theater tells a story, each one filled with fun facts you never knew!

With our new series, Theater Stories, we're bringing you tidbits you may have never heard, tales you never thought to ask about and more, giving you a better look into the history of Broadway theatres, as well as a leg-up on your next theater-trivia night.


When was the Imperial Theatre Built?

The Imperial Theatre opened in 1923. Designed by the famed Herbert J. Krapp, who designed such Broadway theatres as the Ambassador Theatre, Brooks Atkinson Theatre, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Biltmore Theatre, Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Broadhurst Theatre and more, the Imperial was The Shubert Organization's fiftieth venue in New York City, and designed specifically to house musicals. The Imperial Theatre opened with the Oscar Hammerstein II-Vincent Youmans production Mary Jane McKane. The production ran for 151 performances and starred Mary Hay, Kitty Kelly, Stanley Ridges and more. The Imperial theatre seats 1,417.

What notable composers, lyricists, stars, and productions have made their mark at the Imperial Theatre?

Theater Stories: AIN'T TOO PROUD, The Premiere of PIPPIN, The Debut of Mary Martin & More About The Imperial TheatreThe Imperial Theatre has housed the work of some of the most lauded composers and performers of our time. Shows to have played the Imperial Theatre include: Oh, Kay! (1926), featuring music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and starring Gertrude Lawrence and Victor Moore; Annie Get Your Gun (1946) featuring lyrics and music by Irving Berlin, and starring Ethel Merman; Gypsy (1960, transfer from The Broadway Theatre) featuring music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents, and starring Ethel Merman; Oliver! (1963) featuring music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, and starring Bruce Prochnik; Fiddler on the Roof (1964) featuring music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, and starring Zero Mostel; Cabaret (1967) featuring music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff, and starring Jill Haworth and Bert Convy; Pippin (1972) featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and starring Ben Vereen; Dreamgirls (1981) featuring music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen, and starring Jennifer Holliday, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine and more; Les Misérables (1990) featuring music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, and originally starring Colm Wilkinson, Terrence Mann, Michael Maguire, Frances Ruffelle, and Judy Kuhn; The Boy from Oz (2003) featuring songs by Peter Allen and starring Hugh Jackman; Billy Elliot the Musical (2008) featuring music by Elton John, and starring Haydn Gwynne, Gregory Jbara, Santino Fontana, Carole Shelley and more; Les Miserables (2014) starring Ramin Karimloo, Will Swenson, Caissie Levy, Keala Settle, Nikki M. James, Andy Mientus and more; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (2016) featuring music and lyrics by Dave Malloy, and starring Josh Groban; Carousel (2018) featuring music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and starring Joshua Henry, Jessie Mueller, Lindsay Mendez, Alexander Gemignani, and Renée Fleming; Ain't Too Proud (2019) featuring the music of The Temptations, and starring Derrick Baskin, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, James Harkness, Ephraim Sykes and more.

What stars have made their Broadway debut at the Imperial Theatre?

Mary Martin made her Broadway debut in Cole Porter's Leave It to Me! which premiered at the Imperial Theatre in 1938. The production, based off the play Clear All Wires by Bella and Samuel Spewack, starred William Gaxton, Victor Moore, Sophie Tucker, and Tamara Drasin. In the show, Martin performed the song 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy', which became a classic and was recorded by artists including Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Marilyn Monroe, and Ariana Grande! Mary Martin went on to win a Tony Award for Peter Pan, an Emmy for appearing in the same role on TV, a Tony for South Pacific, and a Tony for The Sound of Music, was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame, and received the Kennedy Center Honors.

Another star to have made their Broadway debut at the Imperial Theatre, is none other than Josh Groban! Despite being one of the best selling recording artists of all time, Josh Groban had never graced the Broadway stage until 2016, when he starred as Pierre in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. For his role in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Groban was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, and a Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance.

What show is currently in the Imperial Theatre?

The show that is currently in the Imperial Theatre is Ain't Too Proud! Ain't Too Proud, a jukebox musical featuring music and lyrics by The Temptations and a book by Dominique Morisseau, premiered on Broadway in 2018. The original cast featured Derrick Baskin, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, James Harkness, Ephraim Sykes, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr., Nasia Thomas, Taylor Symone Jackson, Jahi Kearse, Christian Thompson, Candice Marie Woods, Rashidra Scott, Joshua Morgan, Caliaf St. Aubyn, E. Clayton Cornelious, and Shawn Bowers. The production was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning the Tony Award for Best Choreography by Sergio Trujillo. The album was also nominated at the 2020 Grammys for Best Musical Theater Album! The show has been on hold since March 2020 due to the Broadway shutdown.

What show holds the box office record at the Imperial Theatre?

The show to hold the box office record at the Imperial Theatre is Billy Elliot! The production grossed $1,663,895 over eight performances, for the week ending January 3, 2010. Billy Elliot, featuring music by Elton John, and book and lyrics by Lee Hall, opened on Broadway after a run in the West End in 2008. The role of Billy Elliot in the production was rotated among David Álvarez, Kiril Kulish, and Trent Kowalik. The show won 10 Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Orchestrations, Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Sound Design.


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