This beautiful theatre opened on January 10, 1910, as the Globe, named after Shakespeare’s theatre in England. It was built by the illustrious producer Charles B. Dillingham and originally had its entrance on Broadway between Forty-sixth and Forty-seventh streets. Dillingham, who spared no expense on his projects, hired the famed architects Carrère and Hastings to design his theatre. According to a report in the New York Dramatic Mirror on January 22, 1910, the new theatre had a large stage, a compact auditorium, Italian Renaissance decor with draperies of Rose du Barry and walls of old gold, blue, and ivory white. One feature of the theatre that attracted much attention was a large oval panel in the ceiling that could be opened when the weather permitted. The Mirror called this “a complete novelty in American theatrical design.”
Another unusual feature was the theatre’s principal facade on West Forty-sixth Street (which today is used as the entrance). The Globe used this side entrance for its carriage patrons. Above the entrance was an outdoor balcony that theatregoers could visit during intermissions, weather permitting.
For his premiere attraction, Dillingham wisely chose a lavish musical for two of that era’s most popular musical-comedy stars, Dave Montgomery and Fred Stone. The show was called The Old Town and had a book by George Ade and music by Gustav Luders. The two comics won raves, and the hit show got the new Globe theatre off to a rousing start.
In 1911 the popular Elsie Janis amused audiences in a sappy musical called The Slim Princess, in which she played a princess too slim to attract suitors, often stepping out of character to do her famous impersonations of Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel Barrymore, Eddie Foy, and George M. Cohan. In recent years it has been discovered that Victor Herbert wrote some of the music for this show.
Elsie Janis teamed up with Montgomery and Stone in The Lady of the Slipper (1912), and the Victor Herbert musical proved to be a smash.
Montgomery and Stone scored still another triumph in 1914 when they opened in Chin-Chin, a Chinese fantasy about Aladdin and his two slaves, played by the comedy team. The musical was a sellout and ran for 295 performances.
Irving Berlin’s Stop! Look! Listen! brought ragtime to the Globe in 1915, plus Ziegfeld Follies beauty Justine Johnstone, comic Joseph Santley, and Harland Dixon in a popular show.
In 1916 the Globe had a dramatic change of pace. The great American actress Laurette Taylor, who had been acting in England, returned to Broadway in a play called The Harp of Life, written by her husband, J. Hartley Manners. The New York Dramatic Mirror reported that Taylor “has made a triumphant return to her native stage.” Also in the cast: young Lynn Fontanne, a name later to have great significance for this theatre.
One of the Globe’s favorite performers, Dave Montgomery, died in the spring of 1917, but his partner, Fred Stone, returned to the theatre on his own and scored a triumph in the musical Jack o’ Lantern in October of that year. Written by the same team that had created Chin-Chin, and produced by Dillingham, the show had sumptuous sets by Joseph Urban of Ziegfeld Follies fame and a perfect role for Stone as a loving man who saves two children from a wicked uncle.
The most interesting thing about The Canary (1918) was that it had songs by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harry Tierney, and Ivan Caryll. It starred the beautiful Julia Sanderson and comic Joseph Cawthorn, and it was about a man who swallowed a diamond.
Kern had his own show, She’s a Good Fellow, written with Anne Caldwell, in 1919, with Joseph Santley playing in drag and the Duncan Sisters doing their vaudeville act. The musical ran for 120 performances and would have continued except for the famed actors’ strike, which forced it to close.
The Roaring Twenties at the Globe brought a very mixed bag of material. In June 1920 George White presented his second edition of George White’s Scandals. It had a score by George Gershwin, lyrics by Arthur Jackson, and sketches by George White and Andy Rice. The headliners were White, tapping furiously; Ann Pennington as a mechanical piano doll; and Lou Holtz providing the low comedy.
In sharp contrast to the worldly outlook of the Scandals was the return of Fred Stone in still another innocent musical involving children, a fantasy fairyland, and “family” entertainment. This one was called Tip Top (October 5, 1920), and it was written by Globe veterans Anne Caldwell and composer Ivan Caryll. Fred Stone’s popularity triggered the musical’s run of 241 performances.
Since Ziegfeld’s New Amsterdam Theatre was occupied by one of his greatest hits, Sally, he presented his Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 at the Globe. It had much to recommend it. Joseph Urban’s sets and James Reynolds’s costumes were so extravagant that this was Flo’s most expensive Follies, costing over a quarter of a million dollars. The cast was stupendous. Fanny Brice sang two of her most memorable numbers: “Second Hand Rose” and “My Man,” a radical departure for her. And the great comics W. C. Fields, Raymond Hitchcock, and Ray Dooley joined Brice in sketches that became immortal.
The end of 1921 brought an endearing Jerome Kern show to the Globe, Good Morning, Dearie, starring Louise Groody and Oscar Shaw.
George White staged his 1922 Scandals at the Globe, and it is still remembered today for George Gershwin’s “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” and for “Blue Monday Blues,” a 25-minute jazz opera that was cut after the opening. It was a work that would influence Gershwin to write his full-scale opera Porgy and Bess. W. C. Fields and Paul Whiteman and his orchestra were among the luminaries in the cast. In June of 1923 another Scandals with a Gershwin score opened at the Globe, but it was one of the least successful in the series.
In 1923 Fred Stone returned to the Globe in Stepping Stones, and this time he brought his stunning, dancing daughter Dorothy along to make her Broadway debut (hence the title). Dad and daughter were a hit. The memorable score was by Jerome Kern and Anne Caldwell, and the plot was an adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood," allowing Fred Stone to play his usual role of a good man, who this time saves a little girl from the big bad wolf.
Ed Wynn, the lisping comic billed as “The Perfect Fool,” brought one of his ingenious shows — The Grab Bag — to the Globe in 1924. The Wynn formula was to present a revue in which he would barge in on other acts and amuse the audience with his ludicrous comments and insane inventions, such as a typewriter-like device for eating corn on the cob without getting his fingers full of butter. The revue was a hit and ran for 184 performances.
On the evening of September 16, 1925, the audience attending the opening night of a new musical at the Globe entered the theatre humming two of the show’s hits — “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy” — before they even heard the overture. The show was No, No, Nanette, and it had a curious history. It had already played in London (although it was strictly an American musical), had played for one year in Chicago, and had several road companies touring the country before the Broadway opening. The musical was a 321-performance hit.
The Globe’s next tenant also had a strange history. It was supposed to be the Ziegfeld Follies of 1926, but because Flo had ended his partnership with Klaw and Erlanger, he was temporarily not permitted, by court decision, to use the Follies name. Therefore, he called this edition No Foolin’ for its Globe opening but very quickly changed the title to Ziegfeld’s American Revue of 1926. It was not one of his best revues, but it had young Paulette Goddard and Louise Brooks in the chorus and featured the beautiful Claire Luce (the dancer, not the playwright).
Fred Stone and his daughter Dorothy appeared in Criss Cross at the Globe in 1926, and the musical had practically the same plot as Stone’s 1917 musical Jack O’Lantern. In this one he saves a child (his daughter) from being swindled out of her inheritance. It was another Jerome Kern/Anne Caldwell show, with Otto Harbach collaborating on book and lyrics. This was to be Fred Stone’s last show at the Globe. He and his daughter were supposed to appear in another Globe musical in 1928, called Three Cheers, but he was not well and was replaced by Will Rogers. At the opening-night performance, Rogers said to the audience: “I don’t know one thing that Fred does that I can do.” Dorothy Stone was featured in the cast, and she drew raves for her singing and dancing.
In December 1926 Beatrice Lillie starred in Vincent Youmans’s musical Oh, Please!, but it failed. The only thing that survived was the hit song “I Know That You Know.”
The last legitimate show to play at this theatre under the Globe name was the memorable musical The Cat and the Fiddle. Jerome Kern provided one of his best scores (including “The Night Was Made for Love,” “Try to Forget,” and “She Didn’t Say Yes”). Book and lyrics were by Otto Harbach. The leads in this Brussels operetta were played by Georges Metaxa, Odette Myrtil, Bettina Hall, and Eddie Foy Jr. It ran for 395 performances.
The stock market crash in 1929, which caused some Broadway theatres to remain dark during the Depression years, had a tragic effect on producer Charles B. Dillingham. He was wiped out financially and lost the Globe Theatre. When The Cat and the Fiddle closed in mid-1932, his theatre, like so many elsewhere in the theatre district, was converted to a movie house. It continued to show films until 1957.
Fortunately, Roger Stevens and Robert W. Dowling of the City Investing Company rescued the old house by buying it and spending a fortune to reconstruct it. Dowling chose to redo the theatre in an elegant 18th-century style. A new stage was built, the second balcony removed, and a cantilevered mezzanine added. Blue damask walls, crystal chandeliers, and a hundred-foot ceiling mural depicting the theatrical muses added to the house’s new opulence, and, most impressive of all, the theatre was renamed the Lunt-Fontanne in honor of America’s foremost husband/wife acting couple, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.
Appropriately, on May 5, 1958, the Lunts opened their new house with one of their best plays, The Visit, a stark, harrowing drama of revenge by Friedrich Duerrenmatt. Tickets were printed in gold for the gala opening night, and the celebrity-studded audience gave the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and the Lunts a clamorous welcome. The critics also loved the new house and the new play (189 performances), which, unfortunately, proved to be the Lunts’ Broadway swan song.
After 1958 the Lunt-Fontanne enjoyed a parade of hits. Some highlights: John Gielgud and Margaret Leighton in Much Ado about Nothing (1959); the last Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music, starring Mary Martin, which played for 1,443 performances (including some at the Mark Hellinger) and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Performance in a Musical (Martin). Classic songs “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Every Mountain,” and the team’s final collaboration, “Edelweiss,” were introduced from the Lunt-Fontanne stage at this time.
The 1960s brought Sid Caesar in Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s marvelous musical Little Me (1962), which should have run longer but was hampered by a newspaper strike; Martha Graham and her Dance Company (1963); Richard Burton in a commendable Hamlet, attended at each performance by his then wife, Elizabeth Taylor (1964); Julie Harris in her first musical, Skyscraper (1965); the British comic Norman Wisdom in Walking Happy (1966), a musical version of the novel Hobson’s Choice; Marlene Dietrich making her Broadway debut in dazzling fashion, singing her famous songs and backed by Burt Bacharach and his huge orchestra (1967); a musical about Wall Street called How Now, Dow Jones (1967); and Nicol Williamson in another Hamlet (1969).
The Rothschilds (1970) was a musical success about the famed Jewish banking family by the Fiddler on the Roof team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. It was the team’s last full collaboration. Hal Linden won a Tony as Best Actor in a Musical, and Keene Curtis won the same award as Best Featured Actor.
Several famous musicals were revived at the Lunt-Fontanne during the 1970s, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1972), starring Phil Silvers (who won a Tony Award); an interracial production of The Pajama Game (1973) with Hal Linden, Barbara McNair, and Cab Calloway; the lavish 20th-anniversary production of My Fair Lady, which moved to the Lunt-Fontanne from the St. James in December 1976; and Carol Channing in a revival of her signature show, Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! (1978). In the middle of all these revivals, a Richard Rodgers/Sheldon Harnick/Sherman Yellen musical about King Henry VIII, called Rex (1976), was beheaded by the critics. Nicol Williamson starred as the king.
In 1979 Sandy Duncan brightened the Lunt-Fontanne by flying all over the house in Peter Pan. In 1981 the elegant Duke Ellington revue Sophisticated Ladies moved into the Lunt-Fontanne, starring Gregory Hines and Judith Jamison, and thrilled theatregoers for 767 performances with its silken Ellington melodies and sparkling choreography.
In 1983 Zev Bufman produced two revivals at this theatre: Noël Coward’s Private Lives, starring real-life feuding couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Corn Is Green, starring Cicely Tyson. These were followed by Peggy Lee in her autobiographical musical Peg, a one-woman show backed by a large band.
The remainder of the 1980s brought revivals of The Wiz, O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, and rock star Sting in 3 Penny Opera. There were also the short-lived new musicals Uptown…It’s Hot, Smile and The Gospel at Colonus; and such entertainments as Doug Henning & His World of Magic; the Grateful Dead's leader in Jerry Garcia Acoustic and Electric; Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Broadway; and Freddie Jackson: Up Close and Personal.
Cathy Rigby starred in another successful revival of Peter Pan in 1990; An Evening With Harry Connick, Jr., proved popular that same year; and in l991 the hilarious Catskills on Broadway played to enthusiastic audiences.
In 1993 Ain’t Broadway Grand, a musical about showman Mike Todd, opened here. Mike Burstyn played Todd, with Debbie Shapiro Gravitte as Gypsy Rose Lee, Maureen McNamara as actress Joan Blondell (one of Todd’s wives), and Gerry Vichi as comic Bobby Clark. The musical had a score by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Lee Adams, and a book by Adams and Thomas Meehan. The show managed only 25 performances.
In 1994 The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public (a sequel to the hit musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) went nowhere, running for only 15 performances despite the presence in the cast of classy Dee Hoty. This was followed by another flop — Comedy Tonight — a vaudeville-type show with Mort Sahl, Dorothy Loudon, Joy Behar, and Michael Davis, which lasted for only eight performances.
In 1995 Carol Channing returned to this theatre in still another revival of Hello, Dolly! Once again the critics raved, and the musical had a run of 188 performances. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Adrian Noble, opened at the Lunt-Fontanne in March 1996, and it received eight positive reviews, which helped it to run for 65 performances. In November of that year the Moscow Theatre Sovremennik presented Chekhov’s The Three Sisters and The Whirlwind, by Eugenia Ginsburg, performed in Russian, with simultaneous English translation via headphones. The company gave eight performances.
The musical Titanic opened to mixed reviews after severe technical mishaps during previews, with a set that recreated the tipping of the decks on the doomed oceanliner. Nevertheless, Peter Stone’s story and the choral score by Maury Yeston struck a chord with audiences, and the show went on to win five Tony Awards, including Best Musical of the season. It sailed on for 804 performances.
After Titanic disembarked for the last time, the theatre was closed from spring through fall 1999 for extensive renovations made by the theatre’s owner, the Nederlander Organization, and executed by the Sachs Morgan Studio (SMS). The aim was to make the elongated orchestra section seem more intimate and to brighten the house’s decor. Improved restroom facilities were installed, and the second floor lobby was completely redone.
On November 12, 1999, the Disney superhit Beauty and the Beast moved from the Palace and, over the next eight years through July 29, 2007, completed a long run of 5,461 performances — the second-longest of any show of the 1990s, after Rent. The Nederlander Organization then took the house out of circulation for the rest of that year for another comprehensive renovation that included modernized electronics and a handsome mini museum in the lower lounge area dedicated to the theatre’s namesakes, with photos of Lunt and Fontanne from throughout their illustrious careers. A grand portrait of the acting couple also greets playgoers as they pass upward from the main lobby to the mezzanine.
The Lunt-Fontanne proved to be a favorite of Disney Theatricals, which booked it for its next musical spectacular, The Little Mermaid, an adaptation of another Disney animated film, based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale. Like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid had music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (with additional lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Doug Wright).
Several of the film’s original voice actors attended the glittering opening night on January 10, 2008, to watch Sierra Boggess, Sean Palmer, and Sherie Rene Scott cavort in the imaginative undersea environment designed by a team that included George Tyspin (sets), Tatiana Noginova (costumes), and Natasha Katz (lighting) and was led by director Francesca Zambello, who created the illusion of swimming by putting the actors in Heelys — shoes with small built-in wheels that were popular with children of the period. The Little Mermaid closed August 30, 2009, after 685 performances.
Things got creepy and kooky at the Lunt-Fontanne on April 4, 2010, when it welcomed The Addams Family, a musical adaptation of the Charles Addams cartoons (and popular TV series) with Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia. The show had music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a libretto by the Jersey Boys team of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Despite mixed reviews, including a vehement pan from The New York Times (“Like going to a Halloween party in a strait-jacket”), the gothic show proved popular with ticket buyers and soon announced a national tour. After Lane and Neuwirth left, they were replaced by Roger Rees and Brooke Shields. The show closed December 31, 2011.