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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. In September of 1955, a revue called Catch A Star! debuted the first songs on Broadway for composer Jerry Bock. Bock's lyricist at the time was Larry Holofcener; other composers also contributed. Neil Simon and his brother Dan Simon wrote sketches for this show.

In March of 1956, Sammy Davis Jr. had his Broadway debut in Mr. Wonderful. Davis (1925 - 1990) had been performing since age five, had never had a formal education and was already a star of the nightclub circuit. The title tune was one of the hits that came from the show; the other was "Too Close For Comfort." The songs were written by Jerry Bock, George Weiss and Larry Holofcener. During the nearly 400-performance run of the show, actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011) appeared for the first time on Broadway as a replacement player. The second act of Mr. Wonderful primarily re-hashes material that Davis, his father and his uncle had been using onstage for decades. In 1964, Davis performed the title role in the musical version of Clifford Odets' play, Golden Boy and was nominated for a Best Actor Tony Award. Davis was one of the original members of the infamous Rat Pack (which included actors and nightclub performers Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin), who led extremely loose lives. The group made a series of movies that traded on the players' names (not the quality of the stories) to sell tickets. In addition to being one of the best tap dancers of his era, Davis also perfected the art of the fast draw, a skill he developed playing gunslingers in movie Westerns.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning musical story about New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia opened in November of 1959. Like the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize (Of Thee I Sing), Fiorello! was also a story about politics. Unlike its predecessor, the lead character was a real politician. George Abbott and Jerome Weidman wrote the libretto, while Jerry Bock wrote the music and Sheldon Harnick the lyrics. Although no hit songs came from the show, Fiorello! won not only a Pulitzer, but also six Tony awards and the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. It shared honors in three Tony categories with The Sound of Music. Tom Bosley, who played La Guardia, debuted on the lyric stage and won a Tony for his efforts. Bosley (1927 - 2010) went on to fame in a number of television roles (remember Richie Cunningham's dad in Happy Days?).

Fiddler on the Roof opened in September of 1964 with a libretto by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. A solid hit, the show compiled a run of 3,242 performances, breaking the recently set record of Hello, Dolly!. Fiddler won the Tony and the Drama Critics Circle awards for Best Musical, along with eight additional Tonys. The cast included Zero Mostel, Beatrice Arthur and Bert Convy. Future film and TV star Adrienne Barbeau made her Broadway debut as a replacement player during the long run. Popular songs introduced in the show included "If I Were A Rich Man," and "Sunrise, Sunset."

On February 16, 1965, Baker Street, a musical about Sherlock Holmes, opened. One cast member was seen often in subsequent years, but this was Tommy Tune's first appearance in a Broadway musical. The book was by Jerome Coopersmith, music and lyrics were by Marian Grudeff and Raymond Jessel. Three songs were contributed by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Baker Street was directed by Harold Prince.

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