Theater Stories: THE BOOK OF MORMON's Record-Setting Run, Arthur Miller's First Hit & More About the Eugene O'Neill Theatre

We're learning history, fun facts & more about the Eugene O'Neill Theatre

By: Sep. 26, 2020
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Theater Stories: THE BOOK OF MORMON's Record-Setting Run, Arthur Miller's First Hit & More About the Eugene O'Neill 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 Eugene O'Neill Theatre!

When was the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Built?

Theater Stories: THE BOOK OF MORMON's Record-Setting Run, Arthur Miller's First Hit & More About the Eugene O'Neill Theatre The Eugene O'Neill Theatre was built in 1925 and designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp, who designed nearly half of the current Broadway theatres, including the Lyceum, Shubert, Booth, New Amsterdam and Longacre Theatres. Originally named the Forrest Theatre, after Edwin Forrest, the first American-Born Broadway star, the theatre was the first to combine a theatre with a hotel, and was the first to use steel frame construction, which had only previously been used for skyscrapers. The theatre was renamed the Coronet Theatre in 1945, and in 1953 was renamed again after Eugene O'Neill! It was the first theater to be named after a playwright.

Who was Eugene O'Neill?

Eugene O'Neill is one of the most lauded playwrights of our time. His first published play, Beyond the Horizon, opened on Broadway in 1920 and launched his career. O'Neill followed up that success with his first big hit, The Emperor Jones in 1920. O'Neill's best known plays include Beyond the Horizon, Anna Christie, The Emperor Jones, Strange Interlude, The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten, and many more. Eugene O'Neill holds the record for winning the most Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. He won for Beyond the Horizon in 1920, Anna Christie in 1922, Strange Interlude in 1928, and Long Day's Journey into Night in 1957.

What other well-known shows have played the theatre?

The Eugene O'Neill Theatre boasts an impressive list of plays and musicals that have graced its stage! All My Sons opened at the theatre in 1947; The Children's Hour in 1952; A View From the Bridge in 1955; She Loves Me in 1963; The Odd Couple in 1966; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1968; California Suite in 1976; Annie in 1981, Caroline, Or Change in 2004; Spring Awakening in 2006; The Book of Mormon in 2011 and many more! Stars who have appeared on the Eugene O'Neill Theatre's stage include Karl Malden, Barbara Cook, Linda Lavin, Jack Lemmon,
Anne Bancroft, John Lithgow, BD Wong, Tonya Pinkins, Anika Noni Rose, Jonathan Groff, John Gallagher Jr. and more.

How did the theatre get through The Great Depression?

The Eugene O'Neill Theatre managed to stay up and running during the Great Depression, which can not be said of many Broadway houses. One of the tactics used to keep people coming to the theatre during these difficult times was to offer them free coffee, cigarettes, perfume, and access to the hotel bar in the adjoining hotel. In 1934, the Jack Kirkland play Tobacco Road transferred to the theatre, and became the longest-running play in history at the time, running through May 31, 1941 for a total of 3,182 performances.

Did you know Neil Simon had a special relationship with the theatre?

Neil Simon purchased the theatre from Broadway producer Lester Osterman in the 1960s and presented some of his best known plays there! The Neil Simon plays that were produced at the theatre include The Odd Couple in 1966, Last of the Red Hot Lovers in 1969, The Good Doctor in 1973, God's Favorite in 1974, California Suite in 1976, Chapter Two in 1979, and I Ought to Be in Pictures in 1980. Simon sold the theatre to Jujamcyn Theaters in 1982.

Did you know Arthur Miller had his first Broadway hit at the theatre?

Arthur Miller's All My Sons premiered at the theater (then the Coronet Theatre) in 1947. Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Ed Begley, Beth Merrill, Arthur Kennedy, and Karl Malden, the play won the Tony Award for Best Author and for Best Direction of a Play. In 1949, Miller and Eugene O'Neill actually corresponded with one another through letters! O'Neill sent Miller a letter, congratulating him on the success of the play, and Miller responded, inviting O'Neill to the opening of Death of a Salesman. O'Neill was forced to decline the invitation because of his health, which was declining due to Parkinson's disease. He invited Miller to Boston, where he was living, though the visit never occurred.

What show is currently housed in the Eugene O'Neill Theatre?

The Book of Mormon premiered at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in 2011 where it has played ever since! The show features music, lyrics and book by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone, and originally starred Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells in the two leading roles of Elder Cunningham and Elder Price respectively. The Book of Mormon won Tony awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Orchestrations, Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Sound Design! The show achieved a box office record for the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, grossing $2,161,225 over nine performances, for the week ending December 1, 2013. The Book of Mormon is currently the 14th-longest running Broadway show of all time, sandwiched between Miss Saigon at number 13, and 42 Street at number 15.