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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. Sophie Tucker (1884 - 1966), who started singing in her parents' restaurant for tips at age 10, had become famous in vaudeville in the early years of the 20th century. In April of 1911, she was the star of Merry Mary in Chicago, her first appearance in a musical entertainment with a plot. Sophie Tucker used her ungainly weight to flaunt her overt sexuality, off-color stories and songs in her act. As a self-described "fat and ugly" person, she was able to exercise an independence not often seen in the women of her time. She, not Marlene Dietrich, was credited with introducing pants for women upon her return from a European tour in 1925. Tucker's Broadway musicals included the 1924 Earl Carroll Vanities and, in 1938, Leave It to Me, in which she introduced Cole Porter's "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love." Her career spanned more than six decades and several continents. As styles changed, so did Sophie. During World War I, Tucker adopted jazz stylings and toured with her own band. As films began to steal audiences from vaudeville, Tucker attempted to make the switch to Hollywood. Though she appeared in several movies, the transition was not successful. Later in her career, she spent most of her time performing in nightclubs and made several television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Pal Joey was an unusual musical that opened in December of 1940. This piece took a jaundiced, realistic look at the gigolo trade; the central characters were hard, cynical and selfish. Though these are not the kind of people most would even care about, let alone spend an evening viewing their story, Rodgers and Hart managed to make it work. After all, aren't the villains sometimes the most interesting characters? The first performances of two Rodgers and Hart classics were heard here: "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "I Could Write A Book." Gene Kelly, in his first book musical, originated the title role. When Gene Kelly (1912 - 1996) appeared in Pal Joey, he had two straight play productions on Broadway to his credit and two musicals. His musical debut was in a revue called Leave It To Me! in November of 1938. The cast of that show included, among others, Mary Martin and Sophie Tucker. After performing multiple roles in a musical revue called One For The Money, Kelly acted in The Time of Your Life, a Pulitzer-winning straight play by William Saroyan. That play, which included future film, radio and TV star William Bendix and future stage, screen and musical star Celeste Holm (1917 - 2012) in its cast, ran for seven months, then re-opened 17 months later for a one-month run. In the second run, Kelly acted and choreographed.

Steve Allen (1921 - 2000), a very talented man who excelled at almost every undertaking, wrote the music and lyrics for a show based on the life of Sophie Tucker that opened in April of 1963. Understandably, the show was called Sophie. He had already appeared in a Broadway non-musical (The Pink Elephant) as a performer, but this was Allen's debut as a Broadway composer. To say that Steve Allen was talented is a decided understatement. The following is a list of some of the man's accomplishments during his career:
  • Created and hosted the original "Tonight" show
  • Wrote 52 books
  • Starred on Broadway in The Pink Elephant
  • Played the title role in the Universal film The Benny Goodman Story
  • Wrote more than seven thousand songs, including:

  • - This Could Be The Start of Something Big"
    - (Theme from) "Picnic"
    - "Impossible"
  • Wrote the score for several stage and television musicals
  • Recorded more than fifty albums/CDs
  • Wrote The Wake, an Irish drama performed in Los Angeles
  • Hosted The Steve Allen Comedy Hour on NBC TV
  • Created, wrote and hosted "Meeting of Minds," an Emmy award-winning public television show

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