By the time the Shuberts built the theatre originally known as the Plymouth in 1917, The New York Times reported: “It is a dull week when no new theatre opens.” The Shuberts now had a block of theatres — the Plymouth and Booth on West Forty-fifth Street and the Shubert and Broadhurst, back-to-back with these, on West Forty-fourth Street.
The Shuberts leased their new Plymouth Theatre to the distinguished producer/director Arthur Hopkins. It was designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp, and The Times reported that it was simple in décor; was decorated in shades of brown, blue, and gold; and had a seating capacity of about 1,000 (since increased to 1,079), with only one balcony.
An unusual aspect of the opening bill on the night of October 10, 1917, was that it was not a new show. Clare Kummer’s comedy A Successful Calamity, starring William Gillette, had been a hit the previous year at the Booth next door, and it was revived with virtually the same cast at the Plymouth.
Producer Hopkins brought John Barrymore to the Plymouth in 1918 to play one of his most successful parts: Fedya in a dramatization of Tolstoy’s Redemption. Hopkins directed the play, and Robert Edmond Jones designed a sumptuous production. Barrymore and the huge cast gave splendid performances. The producer even invited Tolstoy’s son to attend a dress rehearsal, but the Russian’s only comment afterward was, “Where’s Fedya’s beard?”
Later in 1918 Walter Hampden played Hamlet at the Plymouth in a revival of Shakespeare’s tragedy. On April 9, 1919, Hopkins jolted the town with his superlative production of The Jest, an Italian play by Sem Benelli, starring John Barrymore as an effete painter and Lionel Barrymore as an odious Captain of the Mercenaries. The brilliant acting of the Barrymore brothers as deadly enemies, Robert Edmond Jones’s magnificent Renaissance sets, and Hopkins’s direction made this one of the early milestones in American theatre.
On December 22, 1919, Hopkins tried again with a Russian classic, Maxim Gorki’s The Lower Depths, retitled Night Lodging. But despite excellent performances by Edward G. Robinson and Pauline Lord, it lasted only 14 performances.
The Roaring Twenties started auspiciously at the Plymouth with Little Old New York, a hit comedy by Rida Johnson Young that took place in New York of 1810, when, as Burns Mantle noted, “John Jacob Astor spoke with a German accent and Cornelius Vanderbilt ran a ferry.” The play concerned an Irish girl, played by Genevieve Tobin, who masquerades as a boy in order to inherit a vast fortune. But she falls in love with the boy who is the rightful heir and gives up her inheritance to win him (and his inheritance). This bit of Irish blarney was good for 311 performances.
Other highlights of the 1920s included Zoe Akins’s serious study of a marriage gone wrong, Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1921), with fine acting by Marjorie Rambeau, Frank Conroy, and Lee Baker; and Arthur Hopkins’s production of The Old Soak (1922), a lovable comedy about an alcoholic (Harry Beresford) and his wife, Matilda (Minnie Dupree), that was named one of the ten best plays of the season by Burns Mantle. Another family comedy, The Potters, by J. P. McEvoy, starred Donald Meek as Pa Potter, Catharine Calhoun Doucet as Ma, Raymond Guion (later Gene Raymond of the movies) as Bill Potter, and Mary Carroll as Mamie Potter. The Potters amused for 245 performances.
One of the American theatre’s most significant plays, What Price Glory?, by Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings, detonated at the Plymouth on September 5, 1924. The drama, produced and directed by Arthur Hopkins, was the first war play to use the profane speech of soldiers. The program carried this puzzling note by Hopkins: “I am presenting What Price Glory? exactly as it has been given at the Plymouth Theatre for every performance, except for the elimination of three expressions that are used in the best families and by our noblest public officials.” The play focused on battling army buddies First Sergeant Quirt (William Boyd) and Captain Flagg (Louis Wolheim), and the characters became so memorable that a number of films were made about them. What Price Glory? ran for 435 performances.
Laurette Taylor, Frank Conroy and Louis Calhern tried to make a success of Philip Barry’s metaphysical play In a Garden (1925), but it was a bit too murky for theatregoers.
Winthrop Ames presented several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas during 1927. On September 1 of that year, another huge hit came to this theatre: a lively comedy called Burlesque, by Arthur Hopkins and George Manker Watters. It starred Hal Skelly as a burlesque comic and Barbara Stanwyck as his wife, who performs in a seedy act with him. Burns Mantle named it one of the year’s ten best plays, and it had a healthy run of 372 performances.
The sensational Snyder-Gray murder case (Ruth Snyder was the first woman in America put to death by electrocution, for plotting to murder her husband) inspired an interesting surrealistic play, Machinal (1928), by Sophie Treadwell. Arthur Hopkins staged the drama, which was superbly played by Zita Johann in the Snyder role and by a young actor named Clark Gable as the lover who murders Snyder’s husband.
On November 26, 1928, playwright Philip Barry returned to the Plymouth, this time in triumph. Arthur Hopkins produced and staged his felicitous comedy Holiday, and it became one of the theatre’s most prized high comedies. Written specifically for Hope Williams, the socialite turned actress, the play dealt with a young man, Johnny Case (Ben Smith), who has made some money and wants to take a holiday and enjoy it while he is still young. His socialite fiancée and her stuffy father oppose this plan, so he takes his joyous holiday with his fiancée’s rebellious sister, played by Williams. The star was understudied by Katharine Hepburn, who never got to play the role on Broadway but starred in the excellent movie version.
Hope Williams returned to the Plymouth in 1930 in Rebound, a comedy about divorce written especially for her by Donald Ogden Stewart, who had appeared with her at the Plymouth in Holiday. Burns Mantle selected it for his best-plays volume.
Highlights of the 1930s at the Plymouth included Paul Muni at his finest in Elmer Rice’s Counselor-at-Law (1931); Roland Young, Laura Hope Crews, and Frances Fuller in Clare Kummer’s hilarious comedy Her Master’s Voice (1933), voted one of the year’s ten best plays by Burns Mantle; Tallulah Bankhead suffering a brain tumor in Dark Victory (1934); and Constance Cummings giving a memorable performance in Samson Raphaelson’s comedy Accent on Youth (1934). Sidney Howard’s Paths of Glory (1935), an impassioned play about a true, unjust incident in World War I, should have run longer than its 24 performances.
The second half of the 1930s saw Helen Jerome’s faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1935), which moved to the Plymouth from the Music Box; Robert E. Sherwood’s deft adaptation of the French play Tovarich (1936), with the famed Italian actress Marta Abba making her Broadway debut, costarring with the suave John Halliday; and Gertrude Lawrence in one of her greatest roles, as a sappy society woman who finds God in the Oxford movement, in Rachel Crothers’s scintillating Susan and God (1937). All three of these play made Mantle’s best-of-the-year list.
Robert E. Sherwood’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1938), winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the first production of the new Playwrights Company, starred Raymond Massey as an incredibly convincing Abe. Clare Boothe’s anti-Nazi play Margin for Error (1939), directed by Otto Preminger, featured Sam Levene as a comic police officer and Preminger as an odious German consul.
The Plymouth was constantly operating during the 1940s, with new hits, transfers from other theatres, and a few revivals. William Saroyan’s Love’s Old Sweet Song (1940), a screwball comedy about the plight of mankind, with Walter Huston, Jessie Royce Landis and Alan Hewitt, was not as successful as his earlier plays. Alan Dinehart, Glenda Farrell, and Lyle Talbot ran seemingly forever in a sleazy comedy, Separate Rooms (1940). Mary Anderson was so nasty in Guest in the House (1942) that audiences hissed her, while critics raved.
Thornton Wilder won another Pulitzer Prize and rattled theatregoers with The Skin of Our Teeth (1942), a lunatic cartoon about the human race, starring Tallulah Bankhead as the eternal temptress; Fredric March as the inventor of the alphabet, the wheel, and adultery; Florence Eldridge as his homespun wife; and Montgomery Clift and Frances Heflin as his children.
Katharine Cornell, Raymond Massey, and Henry Daniell had a moderate success at the Plymouth in Dodie Smith’s Lovers and Friends (1943). Chicken Every Sunday (1944), a homey comedy by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, was a wartime hit that transferred from Henry Miller’s Theatre. Spencer Tracy returned to Broadway after many years in Hollywood to star in Robert E. Sherwood’s drama The Rugged Path (1945), but the idealistic play, directed by Garson Kanin, ran for only 81 performances.
Mary Martin went Asian in a charming musical, Lute Song (1946), adapted from a Chinese classic by Sidney Howard and Will Irwin, with a score by Raymond Scott and two unknowns in the cast (Yul Brynner and Nancy Davis — later Mrs. Ronald Reagan). Clifton Webb returned to Broadway in Noël Coward’s light comedy Present Laughter (1946), but it was too thin for critics and audiences. Tallulah Bankhead arrived in a dusty drama, The Eagle Has Two Heads (1947), by Jean Cocteau, with Helmut Dantine replacing Marlon Brando out of town because Bankhead claimed Brando was picking his nose and scratching his behind onstage — which would have helped this turkey considerably.
Alfred Drake and Marsha Hunt brought Joy to the World (1948), a play about the dangers of liberalism in Hollywood. Next at the Plymouth, Tallulah Bankhead and Donald Cook turned Noël Coward’s Private Lives (1948) into a roughhouse wrestling match, and they succeeded for 248 performances.
The 1950s started out with a huge hit for this theatre. Samuel Taylor’s The Happy Time, a sentimental comedy about a French Canadian family, starred Claude Dauphin, Kurt Kasznar, Johnny Stewart, and Eva Gabor. The Rodgers and Hammerstein production ran for 614 performances. In April 1952 Paul Gregory’s production of Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell, which had previously played at Carnegie Hall and the Century Theatre, moved to the Plymouth for a two-month run. It starred Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton (who staged it), Cedric Hardwicke, and Agnes Moorehead. On October 29 of the same year, one of the Plymouth’s biggest hits opened. It was Frederick Knott’s Dial "M" for Murder, a thriller about a husband hiring a hit man to kill his wife. It starred Maurice Evans, Gusti Huber, and Richard Derr, with John Williams as an impeccable inspector, and it ran for 552 performances.
Highlights of the remainder of the 1950s included The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1954), staged by Charles Laughton, starring Henry Fonda, Lloyd Nolan, and John Hodiak in Herman Wouk’s powerful adaptation of his novel The Caine Mutiny; Marge and Gower Champion and Harry Belafonte in 3 for Tonight (1955), a “diversion in song and dance”; Margaret Sullavan in her last Broadway appearance, Carolyn Green’s bubbly comedy Janus (1955), with Robert Preston and Claude Dauphin; Maurice Evans, Claudia Morgan, and Signe Hasso in a revival of Shaw’s The Apple Cart (1956); Arnold Schulman’s amusing A Hole in the Head (1957), with an expert cast including Paul Douglas, David Burns, Kay Medford, Joyce Van Patten, Lee Grant, and Tom Pedi; Peter Ustinov’s satiric Romanoff and Juliet (1957), starring Ustinov as a general who plays cupid to a Russian boy and an American girl; and Leslie Stevens’s sexy comedy The Marriage-Go-Round (1958), starring Claudette Colbert, Charles Boyer, Julie Newmar, and Edmond Ryan, which ran into 1960.
The Plymouth greeted the 1960s with a smash musical, Irma La Douce (1960), that came by way of France and England. Directed by Peter Brook, it starred Elizabeth Seal, who won a Tony for her performance as a French hooker, and Keith Michell as her boyfriend, who disguises himself as her only patron to keep her to himself. Paddy Chayefsky’s Gideon (1961) starred Fredric March as a debating angel, who is really God. Margaret Leighton and Anthony Quinn brought sparkle to a French/English play, Tchin-Tchin (1962).
Lillian Hellman had one of her rare failures with a satiric comedy about American materialism, My Mother, My Father and Me (1963), directed by Gower Champion and starring Ruth Gordon and Walter Matthau. Arnold Wesker’s British hit Chips with Everything (1963) amused with the adventures of young recruits in an RAF training unit. Alec Guinness won a Tony Award for his memorable portrayal of the title role in Dylan (1964), with Kate Reid as his wife. William Hanley’s Slow Dance on the Killing Ground (1964) was named one of the best plays of the year, but audiences avoided it.
In 1965 Neil Simon came up with his best and most immortal comedy, The Odd Couple, starring Walter Matthau as a sloppy sports announcer, recently divorced, who rooms with an incredibly neat friend (played to perfection by Art Carney), whose wife has just thrown him out of the house. It achieved a run of 965 performances. In 1966, however, Anthony Perkins, Connie Stevens, and Richard Benjamin starred in Simon’s most insipid comedy, The Star-Spangled Girl (1966), a stultifying evening of vapidity. Edward Albee also came a cropper with his play Everything in the Garden (1967), based on a true incident involving Long Island wives who made extra money as hookers. Simon redeemed himself with a deft trio of playlets called Plaza Suite (1968), starring Maureen Stapleton and George C. Scott in vignettes set at New York’s celebrated Plaza Hotel. It ran for 1,097 performances.
During the 1970s the Plymouth continued to reign as one of Broadway’s top legitimate theatres. On December 13, 1970, Simon attempted his first serious drama with The Gingerbread Lady, a play supposedly inspired by Judy Garland’s erratic career. It starred Maureen Stapleton, who won a Tony as the alcohol-drenched singer, but it ran only 193 performances. In 1973 Jean Kerr came up with Finishing Touches, a comedy about a college professor’s middle-age problems, but even with Barbara Bel Geddes and James Woods in the leads, the play lingered for only five months.
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore assembled a sequel to their highly successful revue Beyond the Fringe, and the show, which they called Good Evening (1973), ran for 228 performances. The Plymouth then had another British invader, which turned out to be one of its most illustrious tenants: Peter Shaffer’s Equus, a London hit based on a true, bizarre case about a young man who blinds a stable full of horses. It starred Anthony Hopkins as a psychiatrist and Peter Firth as the disturbed youth. As the run continued, Hopkins was succeeded by Anthony Perkins, Richard Burton, and other stars. Equus, which ran for 1,209 performances in New York, won the Tony Award as best play of the season and won another Tony for its director, John Dexter.
Another British import, Otherwise Engaged (1977), by Simon Gray, starred Tom Courtenay as a British intellectual who tries to play a classical record and keeps getting interrupted by his scabrous friends. Elizabeth Swados’s Runaways (1978) moved from the downtown New York Shakespeare Festival for 267 performances. Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1979), the Tony Award-winning revue based on Fats Waller’s music, moved from the Longacre and played for two more years. Jane Lapotaire, repeating her triumph from Britain as Edith Piaf in Piaf, won a Tony for her interpretation of the famous street singer.
In the fall of 1981 the Royal Shakespeare Company brought its acclaimed production of Dickens’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1981), and the Plymouth Theatre had to accommodate its complicated scenic design by constructing catwalks all over the house. The eight-hour play (performed over two nights, or on matinee days with a dinner intermission) caused a sensation for its staging (and $100 ticket price) and won a Tony for Best Play and for Best Performance by an Actor — Roger Rees. Directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird were also honored with a shared Tony Award for their inspired direction of this extremely complex production.
In 1982 the Circle in the Square offered Colleen Dewhurst in a revival of Ugo Betti’s The Queen and the Rebels. In 1983 the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of the British play Plenty garnered raves. Written by David Hare, it offered memorable performances by Canadian actress Kate Nelligan and by American actor Edward Herrmann.
In 1983 this theatre housed an all-star revival of Kaufman and Hart’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy You Can’t Take It with You, with Jason Robards, Elizabeth Wilson, Colleen Dewhurst, Maureen Anderman, James Coco, Meg Mundy, Bill McCutcheon, and many others. This was followed by Tom Stoppard’s Tony Award-winning play The Real Thing, which also won Tony Awards for its stars, Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close and Christine Baranski, and for its director, Mike Nichols. The play ran for 566 performances.
Another bonanza opened here in 1985: Lily Tomlin in her virtuoso one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, by Jane Wagner, which won Tomlin a Tony Award for her dazzling performance. Next came a revival of Shaw’s Pygmalion, starring Peter O’Toole and Amanda Plummer; and Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, with an explosive portrayal by John Malkovich and a Tony Award-winning performance by Joan Allen. Wendy Wasserstein’s play The Heidi Chronicles won the Pulitzer Prize for its story of art historian Heidi Holland, whose life reflects the evolution of the feminist movement over 25 years. The play moved to the Plymouth from Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons.
The Plymouth’s next tenants were Tracey Ullman in The Big Love (1991); and Brian Friel’s Tony Award-winning drama Dancing at Lughnasa, a portrait of small-town Irish life, with Dublin’s famed Abbey Theatre players. Dancing won Tony Awards for Best Play (Brian Friel), Best Featured Actress (Brid Brennan), and Best Direction of a Play (Patrick Manson), and it ran for 421 performances.
Gypsy Passion, the Flamenco musical that had been a success at the Town Hall, played a return engagement in 1992 at this theatre. The following year The Song of Jacob Zulu, a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production, played here, followed by another Friel drama, Wonderful Kentucky, also from the Abbey Theatre. But this one received mixed reviews and closed after nine performances.
The next Plymouth tenant fared better: Passion, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book and direction by James Lapine. The rather depressing tale of an odd romance between an ugly Italian woman and a handsome Italian officer was performed without intermission. Although the musical received mixed reviews, reflecting the strongly mixed audience reaction, it ran for 280 performances and won the following Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Lapine), Best Original Musical Score (Sondheim), and Best Actress in a Musical (Donna Murphy). It was additionally nominated for these Tony Awards: Best Actor in a Musical (Jere Shea), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Tom Aldredge), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Marin Mazzie), Best Director of a Musical (Lapine), Best Costume Designer (Jane Greenwood), and Best Lighting Designer (Beverly Emmons).
Brian Friel had his third opening at the Plymouth in four years on March 19, 1995, when Brian Dennehy and Donal Donnelly starred in a revival of his 1981 play Translations. It lasted only 25 performances.
Lincoln Center Theater produced a splendid revival of Edward Albee’s 1966 play A Delicate Balance on April 21, 1996, with Rosemary Harris, George Grizzard, Elaine Stritch, Elizabeth Wilson, Mary Beth Hurt, and John Carter. Highly praised by critics, the revival ran for 186 performances and won the following Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Play, Best Direction of a Play (Gerald Gutierrez), Best Actor (Grizzard). Rosemary Harris, and Elaine Stritch earned Tony nominations for Best Actress in a Play.
April 28, 1997, brought a long-running musical to this theatre: Jekyll & Hyde, with music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. It starred Robert Cuccioli (as Jekyll/Hyde), Christiane Noll, and Linda Eder. The show received the following Tony Award nominations: Actor in a Musical (Cuccioli), Musical Book (Bricusse), Costume Designer (Ann Curtis), and Lighting Designer (Beverly Emmons), but it won none. Despite very mixed reviews, the musical found its audience (many of whom christened themselves “Jekkies” and tracked the show through websites) and ran for 1,543 performances, the record for this theatre. It was Broadway’s first true Internet hit.
In April 2001 Faith Prince starred in the first Broadway revival of the tuneful Jule Styne/Betty Comden/Adolph Green musical Bells Are Ringing. Prince played the role of the lovelorn answering-service operator originated by Judy Holliday, with Marc Kudisch as her secret love. The party was over after two months.
Closely following her Tony-winning blockbuster success with The Producers at the St. James Theatre, director-choreographer Susan Stroman returned to Broadway six months later with Thou Shalt Not, an original musical based on the 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin, with music and lyrics by Harry Connick Jr. and book by David Thompson. Kate Levering and Craig Bierko starred as the two illicit lovers in this story of passion and murder, but Norbert Leo Butz got what good reviews were to be had as the ghost of the dead husband. Overall, however, it was as big a flop as The Producers was a hit, and it closed after 85 performances.
Kathleen Turner starred as Mrs. Robinson in Terry Johnson’s April 2002 stage adaptation of the film classic The Graduate, including a nude scene that got more press attention than the drama.
One of the highlights of the 2002-3 season came in its closing days with a superbly acted revival of Eugene O’Neill’s classic family drama Long Day’s Journey into Night, starring Brian Dennehy and Vanessa Redgrave as James and Mary Tyrone. The pair were named Best Actor and Best Actress in a Play at the 2003 Tony Awards. Tony nominations went to Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robert Sean Leonard as their tortured sons. The production represented a high-water mark in the multiproduction collaboration between Dennehy and director Robert Falls that originated at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The play ran 117 performances.
Talk-show host and former Tony Awards host Rosie O’Donnell found out the hard way that Broadway producing was more difficult than it looked when critics savaged her November 2003 project Taboo, a musical about the drugs-and-sex-infused London club scene of the 1980s. Onetime punk rocker Boy George (real name George O’Dowd) supplied the score and also starred in the production as his real-life mentor, Leigh Bowery, while Euan Morton somewhat confusingly played the young Boy George. O’Donnell had fallen in love with Taboo (pronounced “tuh-BOO,” British style) in its West End debut and struggled under a media microscope to get it on its feet in New York. But the show never found its audience and closed after a round 100 performances, losing its entire investment, much of it from O’Donnell’s own pocket. Morton, Boy George, and costar Raúl Esparza all copped Tony nominations for their acting, and Boy George got a nomination for his score.
Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, and Jane Adams starred in Stephen Belber’s short-lived April 2004 drama Match, about a comfortable and loquacious older bachelor who is suddenly confronted by a grown man claiming to be his son.
Brooklyn, listed on the poster as “Bklyn,” was a self-described “sidewalk fairytale” about a singing prodigy who comes to America looking for her long-lost father, armed only with her name (after his hometown, Brooklyn) and an unfinished lullaby he wrote. The musical stayed for 284 performances starting October 21, 2004, and introduced future star Eden Espinoza, who blew the roof off with a power ballad, “Once upon a Time,” by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson. The show is also remembered for Tobin Ost’s costumes, supposedly designed by the show’s street-people characters, composed of trash bags, police emergency tape, and other Dumpster jetsam.
On May 9, 2005, during the run of Brooklyn, the Plymouth Theatre was renamed the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre after the chairman of the Shubert Organization.
The first show to open at the rechristened house was Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, a tour through the career of the dancing star of Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie, and West Side Story. Songs from these and other great shows were combined with several original songs by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. But the 72-year-old Rivera, who recreated all her own dances, may have waited until too late in her career to do such a show. It folded after a two-month run.
March 2006 saw an underrated revival of Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, starring David Schwimmer of TV’s "Friends" as Lieutenant Greenwald and Îeljko Ivanek as Queeg. The jury of critics said that Jerry Zaks’s production lacked the high dramatic tension of the courtroom drama’s original and film productions, and the case was dismissed after 17 performances.
On October 5, 2006, attorney John Breglio, trustee of the Michael Bennett estate, produced a revival of the classic musical A Chorus Line, which enlisted Bennett’s original co-director Bob Avian as director and original dance captain Baayork Lee as choreographer. Dancer interest in the production was intense, and the audition process became the subject of a 2008 documentary film, Every Little Step. Rather than trying to find a far-fetched new concept for the show, Avian and Lee went the other direction and strove to present A Chorus Line almost exactly as it had been done originally in 1975. This approach earned them some critical finger wagging. But with a cast that included Charlotte d’Amboise as Cassie, Mara Davi as Maggie, Chrissie Whitehead as Kristine, and Tony Yazbeck as Al, the show was welcomed by audiences and kept the Schoenfeld stage lit up with “What I Did for Love” for 759 performances.
On October 16, 2008, John Lithgow, Katie Holmes, Dianne Wiest, and Patrick Wilson took to the Schoenfeld stage in a revival of Arthur Miller’s drama All My Sons, about a wartime crime whose true perpetrator is finally revealed years after his partner is wrongly convicted and imprisoned. Simon McBurney staged the production with projections and sound effects to keep the war in the back of the minds of the characters and the audience.
A great disappointment of the 2008-9 season was Michael Jacobs’s drama Impressionism, about a slow-blooming romance between an art gallery owner and a photographer. The script was strong enough to attract Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons in the main roles, with Marsha Mason, André De Shields, and Aaron Lazar among the powerhouse supporting cast. But critics and audiences just didn’t see what the stars saw in it, and when the production received no Tony nominations, producers shuttered it after 56 performances.
One of the hottest tickets of fall 2009 was Keith Huff’s two-hander, A Steady Rain, about a pair of buddy cops whose small professional compromises snowball into corruption, murder, and suicide. What made this production a sensation was the casting of Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig as the cops, drawing mobs of cheering fans both inside and outside the Schoenfeld at each performance. The show shattered the record for highest weekly gross for any nonmusical Broadway production up to that point, pulling more than $1.1 million dollars a week over the course of its ten-week limited run.
Martin McDonagh’s peculiar black comedy A Behanding in Spokane arrived March 4, 2010, with Christopher Walken adding to his rogues’ gallery of eccentric characters as Carmichael, a man who has spent his whole life searching for his lost hand, which was lopped off by sadistic hillbillies…or perhaps not. He turns the tables on a young couple (Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan) who try to palm him off, so to speak, with a different hand. Sam Rockwell played a suspicious hotel clerk who finds himself wrapped up in their drama. Walken was nominated for Tony and Drama Desk awards.
David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre, which premiered Off-Broadway in 1977, made its Broadway debut in October 2010, with stars Patrick Stewart and TR Knight. Critics were not kind; Ben Brantley of The Times called it "an ill-advised revival." It closed after 56 performances.
Critics weighed in positively on the Schoenfeld's next offering, the title-redacted The Motherf**ker With the Hat. It marked the Broadway debut of downtown playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis as well as stand-up comic Chris Rock. Also starring Bobby Cannavale, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Yul Vázquez (all Tony nominated) and Annabella Sciorra, the comedy was a hit, recouping its entire investment.
Operated by the Shubert Organization, the Schoenfeld remains one of Broadway’s most sought-after theatres for dramas and modest-sized musicals.