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First On Stage
Years ago, while teaching college courses in the History of American Musical Theatre, my research exposed numerous instances of innovation in the art form (“this was the first time…”) as theatrical technologies, along with musical styles and forms, evolved. I began to “collect” such phrases, which later included people, theatrical venues and other occasional oddities, into the collection and organized the data chronologically.
At this site, we focus on historical firsts. Innovation creates history, and this is a collection of innovative events, decisions and inventions. Among other things, the collection includes initial appearances of popular shows, songs and performers. Here, you’ll find descriptions of theatrical firsts in America from 1665 to 2000. Each “historical first” appears in bold type.
Generally, the New York opening is considered the finished form of any work (even if subsequent changes occur during the New York run). For the sake of maintaining some historical perspective, this site covers events through the 1999-2000 season.
Ongoing additions to the site include textual entries and pictures of people and theatrical venues. One project will soon offer links to audio files of songs in the public domain; other improvements may occur as they are invented or suggested.
We owe much to those who have assisted in the development and presentation of this material. Please see our “Cast & Crew” page. To everyone who appears there, I offer my deepest thanks.
Perhaps you will find something here that will initiate your own research. You might want to have an item considered for inclusion at the site (if so, please contact me). You might wish to correct an error that you find here (if so, by all means contact me). You may even find items that will pique your curiosity and motivate you to seek answers. We hope that this site will bring you closer to the theatrical art form that has proven time and again to be our most beloved: the musical.
Wayne Hamilton, MFA
First On Stage
Cast & Crew

Content Researcher/Author
Wayne Hamilton, MFA

Jim Moore

Opening Graphics
Dan Schletty & Richard Schletty

Content Contributors/Advisors
Bobby Golibart
Gerald F. Muller, DMA
Alan Pickrell, Ph.D.
First On Stage

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First On Stage Interesting Facts and Trivia about Broadway Musicals, Musical History, Musical Theater, People, Performers, and Songs. A collection of historical firsts in American musical theatre. Yet another revue, Blackbirds of 1928, which opened in May, 1928, was written by whites, performed by blacks and was the first show to have lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Jimmy McHugh. Fields (1905 - 1974) was Lew Fields' daughter and Herbert Fields' sister. McHugh (1894 - 1969) had worked for Irving Berlin and was the composer of "When My Sugar Walks Down The Street." Blackbirds of 1928 featured Bill Bojangles Robinson and contained two hit songs: "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Diga Diga Do."

In February of 1930, The International Revue offered the first performances of two upbeat hits: "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" and "Exactly Like You," both by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. Unfortunately for the show, the popularity of these songs once again far outlived a very short run. Hard times had hit the theatrical world.

When Stars in Your Eyes opened in February of 1939, it had a stellar cast, including Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante and Mildred Natwick. A newcomer to Broadway who served as a "Gentleman of the Ballet" in the credits of this show was future choreographer and director Jerome Robbins. Unlike most of the shows in Robbins' future, Stars in Your Eyes was a flop, even though Arthur Schwartz wrote the music in his first collaboration with Dorothy Fields as lyricist, and Joshua Logan directed. Jerome Robbins (1918 - 1998) followed his sister into ballet training and emerged as an influential theatrical figure who worked to create distinctly American dance images on the lyric stage. He was associated with many successful shows, including On the Town, Call Me Madam, The King and I, Wonderful Town, Pajama Game, Peter Pan, West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Funny Girl and Fiddler on the Roof. Robbins was nominated for nine Tony awards and won five.

Rodgers and Hammerstein were doing so well just three years after they began working together that they began producing shows by others. In May of 1946, they opened Annie Get Your Gun. The idea for the show came from Dorothy Fields, who wanted to create a show for her friend Ethel Merman. Fields and her brother Herbert wrote the book for the show. Rodgers and Hammerstein selected Jerome Kern to write the music, but Kern died before he began work on the project. His replacement was more than adequate, since the score was provided by Irving Berlin. Some of Berlin's greatest hits were introduced in this show, including "The Girl That I Marry," "(There's No Business Like) Show Business" and "Anything You Can Do." The show also further ensconced Merman in the role of "Queen of the Musicals."

As has happened with many stories, novels become plays or movies (sometimes both) before becoming musicals. This happened with The King and I, which clearly prospered from that evolutionary path. However, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, which opened in April of 1951, did not do as well. The novel was written by Betty Smith, who collaborated with George Abbott to create the libretto for the lyric version; Arthur Schwartz wrote the music to which the lyrics of Dorothy Fields were sung. Shirley Booth was the star. Though it had a decent run, the piece was unable to repay its investment.

In June of 1952, Wonderful Town appeared. The show introduced "Ohio" and "One Hundred Easy Ways To Lose A Man," its most popular tunes. Leonard Bernstein provided the music. Joseph Fields (son of Lew Fields and brother of Dorothy Fields and Herbert Fields) and Jerome Chodorov wrote the book, adapting the play they had written (My Sister Eileen) to the purpose. Lyrics were from Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Edith Adams played Eileen and Rosalind Russell (1908 - 1976) performed the role of her sister Ruth. Wonderful Town was also the Broadway musical debut for another performer in the cast, future director and choreographer Joe Layton (1931 - 1994).

February of 1959 marked the opening of Redhead, starring Gwen Verdon and Richard Kiley, both of whom won Tony awards (Best Actress in a Musical and Best Actor in a Musical, respectively) for the show. The music was by Albert Hague, the lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and the book was by Herbert Fields, Dorothy Fields, Sidney Sheldon and David Shaw. Redhead won five Tony awards, including Best Musical, but is rarely produced today, probably because it was created specifically for the talents of Gwen Verdon. Ironically, it was originally designed for Beatrice Lillie and subsequently offered in turn to Ethel Merman and Celeste Holm (1917 - 2012) before being taken to Verdon. This was the first production Bob Fosse directed and choreographed, and he won the Tony for Best Choreography. He filled both roles in many other future productions.

January of 1966 brought Sweet Charity to Broadway. Conceived, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse as a vehicle for his wife and star Gwen Verdon, the show had music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and a book by Neil Simon. It also introduced two hits: "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and "Big Spender." The original production of Sweet Charity was also the first and only Broadway musical appearance for future TV comedienne Ruth Buzzi (Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In), though she had previously appeared in numerous musical revues off-Broadway.

October of 1979 brought some old-style entertainment in a new musical called Sugar Babies. The pranks, puns and pratfalls of burlesque were all there, along with tap queen Ann Miller and, in his Broadway debut, Mickey Rooney. The piece was conceived by Ralph G. Allen and Harry Rigby. Lyrics were provided by Dorothy Fields and Al Dubin. Jimmy McHugh, along with a committee of 13 other composers, provided music. Rooney and Miller were nominated for Tony awards and Rooney received a Theatre World special award in 1980. Sugar Babies was also the Broadway debut of actress/singer Ann Jillian, who had already appeared in two movie musicals. Mickey Rooney was less than two years old when he first appeared on stage as part of his family's vaudeville act. He made his first movie at age six, and by age 13 he had completed more than 50 two-reelers. Between his 17th and 27th birthdays he played the title role in 15 Andy Hardy movies. After that, he made a series of movie musicals opposite Judy Garland. Though his career started in the theatre, he only appeared in two Broadway shows (Sugar Babies and The Will Rogers Follies as a replacement player). Meanwhile, he completed more than 200 films, received an Honorary Oscar Award for Lifetime Achievement, a special Juvenile Oscar Award he shared with Deana Durbin in 1939, five Oscar Award nominations, one Emmy Award, five Emmy Nominations and two Golden Globe awards.

Ladies and gentlemen, this first selection was randomly generated for your edification and delight!