“To the theater world,” George Sanders cynically narrates in the 1950 movie classic All About Eve, “New Haven, Connecticut, is a short stretch of sidewalk between the Shubert Theatre and the Taft Hotel surrounded by what looks like a small city. It is here that managers have what are called out-of-town openings – which are openings for New Yorkers who want to go out of town…”
For much of the 20th century, the Shubert Theatre was a first stop for shows on their bumpy road to Broadway. During the “Golden Years” of theatre, previews in New York (as they have today) were almost unheard of. Out of town tryout cities – such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston and New Haven – were where new shows were performed for the very first time in front of an audience. Here, changes were made, new songs and dialogue added and subtracted from the productions, along with actors, with composers, lyricists, & librettists burning the midnight oil. Legendary shows like “My Fair Lady”, “Oklahoma”, “The Sound of Music”, “A Streetcar Named Desire, and countless others, all made their World Premieres on our stage – giving the Shubert, New Haven its nickname – “The Birthplace of the Nation’s Greatest Hits!”
“Most theater pros hated the whole out-of-town experience,” said Richard Rodgers’s daughter, Mary, in an interview. “But my father loved it. He loved the camaraderie, the whole mentality, being away from home with one goal in mind: to put on a show. And for Rodgers and Hammerstein there was no better place to unveil a new show than the Shubert.”
The “out-of-town” experience didn’t come without some bumps in the road… Take, for instance, the story from opening night of “My Fair Lady” in 1956, where New Haven was struck by a major blizzard and the show’s leading man, Rex Harrison, locked himself in his dressing room and refused to go on stage. Or when Broadway legend Elaine Stritch shuttled, via an ex-boyfriend’s car, back and forth between her assignment as understudy for Ethel Merman in “Call Me Madam” in New York and performing in “Pal Joey” at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, CT!
Hear the hilarious – and completely true – story of her Shubert adventure (and almost mis-adventure) in this clip from Ms. Stritch’s one-woman show…
Contributing Writer: Ian Galligan, Operations Assistant, Shubert Theatre