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Theater Stories: Ethel Merman's Broadway Debut, Stephen Sondheim Classics and More About The Neil Simon Theatre

Learn history, fun facts and more about the Neil Simon Theatre!

Theater Stories: Ethel Merman's Broadway Debut, Stephen Sondheim Classics and More About The Neil Simon 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.

Today's Theater Stories features The Neil Simon Theatre!

Did you know the Neil Simon Theatre was originally named the Alvin Theatre?

The Alvin theatre was built in 1927, and the developer Alexander Pincus named it the Alvin as an amalgam of the names of producers Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedley. The first show to play the Alvin Theatre was George and Ira Gershwin's Funny Face starring Fred and Adele Astaire! The theatre was renamed in honor of Neil Simon in 1983, while Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs was playing the theatre.

Who is Neil Simon?

Theater Stories: Ethel Merman's Broadway Debut, Stephen Sondheim Classics and More About The Neil Simon Theatre Neil Simon was a playwright, screenwriter and author who wrote more than 30 plays, and almost as many screenplays! His stage plays include Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, California Suite, The Goodbye Girl and many more. Simon has received more combined Oscar and Tony Award nominations than any other writer. He received the Tony Award for Best Author for The Odd Couple, a special Tony for his contribution to the theatre, Best Play for Biloxi Blues, and Best Play for Lost in Yonkers.

What is the Neil Simon Theatre's Longest Running Show?

"It's Hairsprayyyy!" Hairspray played the Neil Simon Theatre from August 15, 2002 to January 4, 2009, a total of 2,642 performances. Hairspray features music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman and a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan. The musical was based on John Waters's 1988 film. The show starred Marissa Jaret Winokur, Harvey Fierstein, Matthew Morrison, Kerry Butler, Laura Bell Bundy, Jackie Hoffman, and more!

Did any stars make their Broadway debut at the Neil Simon Theatre?

The legendary Ethel Merman made her Broadway debut at the Neil Simon Theatre (then the Alvin) in the 1930 George and Ira Gershwin musical, Girl Crazy! The world was introduced to the iconic Ethel Merman as she belted out 'I Got Rhythm' and more. The musical also starred Ginger Rogers, and spawned many film versions, most notably the 1943 adaptation starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

Which notable composers had more than one show play the Neil Simon Theatre?

Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim both opened multiple shows at the Neil Simon Theatre! Cole Porter debuted Anything Goes at the theatre in 1934, Red, Hot and Blue in 1936, and Something for the Boys in 1943. Stephen Sondheim opened A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the theatre in 1962, Company in 1970, and Merrily We Roll Along in 1981.

What was the most recent show to play the Neil Simon?

The most recent show to play the Neil Simon Theatre was The Illusionists - Magic Of The Holidays, from November 29, 2019, to January 5, 2020. Prior the Illusionists, The Cher Show took up residence in the theatre from December 2018 to August 2019.

What show will be heading to the theatre next?

The show that is planning to make its home at the Neil Simon Theatre is the musical MJ. Prior to the health crisis, MJ was set to begin previews on July 6, 2020, and open on August 13 2020. MJ features the music of Michael Jackson, with a book by Lynn Nottage, starring Ephraim Sykes as Michael Jackson. The cast also includes Quentin Earl Darrington, Whitney Bashor, Gabriel Ruiz and more.

What is the shortest-running show to play the Neil Simon Theatre?

The show with the shortest run at the theatre was the musical Senator Joe. The show was centered on Joseph McCarthy, and was scheduled to open in 1989! The musical never made it to opening night, closing after three preview performances.

Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos

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