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Theater Stories: The First Rodgers & Hammerstein Collaboration, HELLO, DOLLY! and More About The St. James Theatre!


Learn history, fun facts and more about the St. James Theatre!

Theater Stories: The First Rodgers & Hammerstein Collaboration, HELLO, DOLLY! and More About The St. James 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 St. James Theatre!

What was the St. James Theatre originally called?

The St. James Theatre was originally built in 1927 by the famed producer Abraham L. Erlanger, and designed by Warren and Wetmore, who also designed Grand Central Terminal! Built on the site of the original Sardi's restaurant, the theatre was named The Erlanger Theatre until Erlanger's death in 1930. It was renamed the St. James Theatre by the Astor family, who owned the land on which the theatre was built. The first show to play the St. James Theatre was a show called The Merry Malones, which featured book, music and lyrics by George M. Cohan, who also starred in the leading role!

Did you know the first Rodgers & Hammerstein collaboration debuted in the St. James?

Rodgers and Hammerstein, who had previously presented hits on Broadway with other creative partners (Rodgers with Lorenz Hart and Hammerstein with Jerome Kern) got together in the early 1940s to bring forth a show that would change the face of American musical theater: Oklahoma! Oklahoma! debuted at the St. James Theatre in 1943, bringing new elements of musical theater storytelling to the forefront by using song and dance to advance the plot. Oklahoma! starred Alfred Drake, Joan Roberts, Celeste Holm, Howard Da Silva, Betty Garde, and more and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. Oklahoma! was made into a film in 1955 starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones in her film debut, Rod Steiger, Charlotte Greenwood, and more. The film garnered two Academy Awards and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2007 as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

What other notable shows have played the St. James Theatre?

The St. James Theatre has a rich history, presenting some of the most well-known shows in Broadway history! Shows that have played the St. James theatre include The King and I in 1951; The Pajama Game in 1954; Li'l Abner in 1956; Flower Drum Song in 1958; Hello, Dolly! in 1964; On the Twentieth Century in 1978; Barnum in 1980; The Secret Garden in 1991; The Producers in 2001 and many more!

Did you know the St. James is one of the largest theatres on Broadway?

Theater Stories: The First Rodgers & Hammerstein Collaboration, HELLO, DOLLY! and More About The St. James Theatre!

The St. James Theatre has 1,710 seats! It is behind The Gershwin, which has 1,933 seats, the Broadway Theatre, which has 1761, and the Palace Theatre, which has has 1743 seats.

What is the St. James' longest running show?

The longest running show at the St. James Theatre is none other than Hello, Dolly! Hello, Dolly! ran from 1964 to 1970 at the St. James, playing 2,844 performances, which at the time was the longest running musical in Broadway history! Starring Carol Channing in the title role, the show went on to win 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography and more. This was a record the show held for 37 years, until The Producers came along and beat the record in 2001, winning 12 Tony Awards.

What show had the shortest run in the St. James?

The show to have the shortest run at the St. James was Broadway Opry '79, a concert featuring rotating country music acts. Broadway Opry closed after only two performances. Inspired by Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, the show was set to include Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker, Larry Gatlin, Roger Miller, and the Bellamy Brothers.

What show most recently ran in the St. James Theatre?

The show to most recently inhabit the St. James Theatre was Frozen. Frozen premiered on Broadway in March 2018, and announced its closing in May of 2020, after playing 26 previews and 825 regular performances. Frozen starred Patti Murin, Caissie Levy, Jelani Alladin, John Riddle, Greg Hildreth, Timothy Hughes, Robert Creighton and more, garnering Tony nominations for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre.

Did you know the film Birdman was shot in and around the St. James Theatre?

The 2014 Oscar-winning film Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and more takes place almost entirely at the St. James Theatre. Birdman follows the plight of a washed up actor, trying to make his comeback by starring in a Broadway show. The film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, and both Michael Keaton and Emma Stone were nominated for their performances, in the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories respectively.

Did you know the youngest winner of the Best Actress Tony Award won for a musical that played the St. James?

Daisy Eagan won the Tony Award in 1991 for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for playing Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. Eagan was only eleven years old at the time of her win. She is currently the the second youngest person to win a Tony Award- Frankie Michaels was ten years old when he won his Tony for Mame. The Secret Garden played the St. James Theatre from 1991 to 1993, running for 709 performances.

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