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Theater Stories: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL, Vaudeville History, Theater Ghosts and More About The Palace Theatre

Learn history, fun facts and more about the Palace Theatre!

Theater Stories: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL, Vaudeville History, 
Theater Ghosts and More About The Palace 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 Palace Theatre built?

The Palace Theatre opened in 1913 and became the premiere venue for Vaudeville performers in the country! To play the Palace meant that you had "made it" in your vaudeville career. Performers to have headlined the vaudeville circuit at the Palace include Ethel Barrymore, Nora Bayes, The Marx Brothers, Fanny Brice, George Jessel and many more. Other performers to headline the Palace during the vaudeville days include Sarah Bernhardt, Al Jolson, Mae West, , Fred Astaire, Ethel Merman, Bing Crosby, and many more. The palace theatre remained a wildly successful vaudeville theater until the Great Depression hit and the popularity of film and radio rose.

(If you've only ever seen a performance of Fanny Brice in the form of Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, check out a video below of the vaudeville legend herself performing in the 1930 film, Be Yourself!)

What happened to the Palace Theatre post-vaudeville?

In 1929, at the start of the Great Depression, the Palace Theatre worked to increase its attendance and ticket sales by increasing the number of shows performed in a day from two to three, and then to four. However, later in the year, the theatre was transformed into the movie theatre and rebranded the RKO Palace. Films to have had their premiere at the RKO Palace include Citizen Kane in 1941 and The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959. Despite attempts to re-convert the theatre back into a venue for live performances between the 40s and 60s, it wasn't until 1965 when the attempts were successful, after The Nederlander Organization purchased the Palace from RKO Theatres.

What notable shows and Broadway stars have graced the stage of the Palace?

The Palace Theatre was the original home to La Cage aux Folles (1983) starring Gene Barry and George Hearn; Beauty and the Beast (1994) starring Susan Egan and Terrence Mann; Aida (2000) starring Heather Headley, Adam Pascal, and Sherie René Scott; Legally Blonde: The Musical (2007) starring Laura Bell Bundy, Christian Borle, Richard H. Blake, Orfeh, Andy Karl and more; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2011) starring Will Swenson, Nick Adams, Keala Settle and more; An American in Paris (2015) starring Robert Fairchild, Leanne Cope, Brandon Uranowitz, Jill Paice, Max von Essen, and Veanne Cox; Sunset Boulevard (2017 revival) starring Glenn Close; The SpongeBob Musical (2017) starring Ethan Slater, Danny Skinner, Lilli Cooper and others, plus many more!

Is the Palace Theatre haunted?

There is more than one Broadway theater said to have a ghost wandering its halls! One such theatre is the Palace! It is said that the ghost of acrobat Louis Bossalina, who was a member of the acrobatic act the Four Casting Pearls, haunts the theatre. There are varying versions of the "ghost story" but the most common theory is that Bossalina fell to his death in the 1950s, and stagehands claimed to have since seen his ghost swinging from the rafters... However the probability of this ghost story is perhaps not so likely, as Bossalina was reported to have fallen during a performance in the 1930s and was injured, but not killed. It was reported that Bossalina actually died in 1963 in Pennsylvania at the age of 61.

What show was most recently performed in the Palace Theatre?

The last show to be performed in the Palace Theatre was The SpongeBob Musical! The Spongebob Musical opened at the Palace Theatre in December 2017 and closed in September 2018 after playing 29 previews and 327 regular performances. The musical, based off the TV show, features music by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert, Edward Sharpe, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, Rob Hyman, John Legend, Panic! at the Disco, Plain White T's, They Might Be Giants, T.I., Domani and Lil' C. The cast featured Ethan Slater, Danny Skinner, Lilli Cooper, Gavin Lee, Wesley Taylor, Stephanie Hsu and more. The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning the Tony for Best Scenic Design of a Musical for David Zinn. The show spawned a live TV special, The SpongeBob Musical: Live On Stage!, which aired in 2019 and featured members of the original Broadway cast. SpongeBob was the last show to play the Palace Theatre, before the the theatre closed for a renovation.

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From This Author Chloe Rabinowitz