Monday, March 5, 2012

The Theatre, The Theatre, What's Happened to the Theatre? (Irving Berlin)

On this day in 18th Century history, in 1750, the Shakespeare play, "King Richard III" was performed in New York City. It was the first Shakespearean play to be presented in America. The play is summarized below:

The play is dominated by Richard the hunchback Duke of Gloucester who becomes King Richard III but only through a series of horrible acts, killing off his enemies, his kinsmen, his wife and most of his supporters before reaching the Battle of Bosworth and crying out "My kingdom for a horse." Richard is portrayed as a pure, self-professed villain of monstrous proportions. His evil drives the plot, and until his final defeat by the Duke of Richmond (who became Henry VII) in the play's last act, the good forces opposing him are weak, splintered, and easy prey for his schemes.

By 1750, New York City had over a thousand citizens, and 150 taverns and one formal performance space. Before that time, taverns offered a bit of theatre along with beverages, but plays or shows were small, extemporaneous, impromptu. At the east end of Broadway, though, the Theatre on Nassau Street changed all that. It was a two story structure holding about 280 people, where actor-managers Walter Murray and Thomas Kean set up a resident company to perform Richard III on March 5, 1750.
They also included the first documented performance of a musical, John Gay's The Beggars Opera, in December of the same year.

The rest is history, as they say. Today there are endless theatres, great and small, on the Great White Way, the section of Broadway where the neon lights are at their most impressive, creating a path of birght white light, where the greats of the stage have all performed. Who would have thought!?

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