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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. The lyric-theatre debut of Shirley Booth (1898 - 1992) took place when Hollywood Pinafore opened in May of 1945. Remembered by most as TV's Hazel the maid, this under-rated actress could also sing. No stranger to Broadway (she made her debut in 1925 in a straight play called Hell's Bells with another newcomer, Humphrey Bogart), she went on to star in several more musicals before moving to TV and film. She is one of only seven performers (and only two women) who won both a Tony (one of her three) and an Oscar Award for Best Actor in the same role in each medium. The role was Lola Delaney in Come Back Little Sheba; the other performers who achieved this mark were Yul Brynner (The King And I), Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady), Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker), Joel Grey (Cabaret), Paul Scofield (A Man For All Seasons), and Jack Albertson (The Subject Was Roses). Note that three of the seven were in musicals. During her lengthy career, Booth won virtually every award a performer can earn, including recognition from the Cannes Film Festival, the New York Film Critics Circle, two Emmys, two Golden Globes and was even anointed Woman of the Year in 1954 (long before the Hazel TV series) by Harvard's Hasty Pudding drama club.

In May of 1960 a musical opened off-Broadway in New York and ran for forty-two years and 17,162 performances. It holds the record as the longest-running musical in the world. This musical is The Fantasticks, written by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. Jones provided the book and lyrics, Schmidt wrote the music. The show introduced a song called "Try To Remember," which achieved some public popularity. That song, like two others from the piece, "Much More" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain," were recorded by other entertainers outside the theatre. The Fantasticks won the Vernon Rice Award for Best Off-Broadway show in its opening season. In 2000, United Artists released a limited-edition film of the show starring Joel Grey and Barnard Hughes. The original cast consisted (entirely) of Jerry Orbach, Rita Gardner, Kenneth Nelson, William Larson, Hugh Thomas, Tom Jones (the librettist/lyricist), George Curley and Richard Stauffer. Orbach (1935-2004) was a popular television actor in the latter part of his career.

Christopher Isherwood's book, Berlin Stories, had become a play by John Van Druten called I Am A Camera, which was transmogrified into the musical Cabaret. The musical opened in November of 1966. The title song was the only one to achieve popularity outside the theatre, but the piece became tremendously popular and had a long run. The original cast included Joel Grey, Jill Haworth, Jack Guilford, Bert Convy and Lotte Lenya as Frau Schneider. Later, a movie version created more songs. Cabaret won eight Tony awards, including Best Musical; it also was named Best Musical by the Drama Critics Circle and tied with You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown for that award from the Outer Critics Circle.

Early in April of 1968, George M! opened on Broadway, paying tribute to George M. Cohan. The show starred Joel Grey, ran for about a year and was the Broadway musical debut for the adult Bernadette Peters. Joe Layton directed and choreographed (and won the Tony for Best Choreography); the book was provided by Michael Stewart, John Pascal and Francine Pascal. The songs, of course, were all Cohan's. Bernadette Peters got her Equity card at age nine and debuted on Broadway in a revival of The Most Happy Fella when she was eleven. Nine years and two straight plays later, when she was just a few weeks past her twentieth birthday, Peters opened in George M! She received a Theatre World award for her performance and went on to earn 7 Tony nominations for musical performances, winning 3 times. Her first Drama Desk award also came from a musical, the Off-Broadway production of Dames at Sea in 1968. Peters has also enjoyed an active movie and television career.

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