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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. Revues were still being produced in the late 1930s, and one that seemed to have more than its share of young talent opened in June of 1939: The Streets of Paris. This was the Broadway debut for a man who was to make his mark first as a dancer and later as a choreographer and director, Gower Champion. In The Streets of Paris, Champion appeared with his first dance partner, Jeanne Tyler. The show was also the Broadway debut for Carmen Miranda, who was already a star in Brazil. She was the first to perform a hit song called "South American Way." Other future stars who appeared in this production were comics Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

The Catholic University of America created a show called Count Me In, which was written by Nancy Hamilton and future theatre critic Walter Kerr. Sent to New York, where it opened in October of 1942, it lasted only a couple of months. Though it was a book musical, it counted on specialty acts, including Gower Champion, to keep audiences entertained. Perhaps Kerr learned enough from this experience to decide it was better to be a critic than a creator.

April of 1960 brought the opening of Bye Bye Birdie. Dick Van Dyke (after a 16-performance debut in a Broadway revue called The Girls Against The Boys) and Chita Rivera starred. So Bye Bye Birdie was Van Dyke's Broadway debut in a book musical. It was Charles Nelson Reilly's Broadway debut and Michael J. Pollard's Broadway musical debut (he had already appeared in two straight plays on Broadway), and comic Kay Medford appeared in this show. Bye Bye Birdie introduced some popular songs, including "How Lovely To Be A Woman" "A Lot Of Livin'" and "Put On A Happy Face." Paul Lynde sang the funny and memorable lament of modern-day parents, "Kids." Michael Stewart wrote the book, his first for a musical, Charles Strouse the music and Lee Adams the lyrics, their first hit. Gower Champion directed, his first time in that role for a book musical. The show ran for a year and a half. Some historians also cite Bye Bye Birdie as the first show to employ the rock idiom. It won the Outer Critics Circle's Best Musical award in 1960 and the Tony for Best Musical and 6 other categories in 1961.

David Merrick was the producer of Carnival, which opened in April of 1961. The star, in her Broadway musical debut, was Anna Maria Alberghetti, who, along with Jerry Orbach and Pierre Olaf, introduced the one hit song from the show: "Love Makes The World Go Round." Robert Merrill composed the music and wrote the lyrics, Michael Stewart wrote the book, and Gower Champion directed and choreographed. Miss Alberghetti won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical and Will Steven Armstrong won the Tony for Best Scene Design. Carnival was also named Best Musical by the Drama Critics Circle.

In January of 1964 Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway. It was a smash hit and ran for a new record 2,844 performances, winning the New York Drama Critics Circle award and Tony award for Best Musical. The title song from the show was a hit and two others were very popular: "Before The Parade Passes By" and "It Only Takes A Moment." Jerry Herman wrote the songs, Michael Stewart the book. David Merrick produced the show and Gower Champion directed. The original production won ten Tony awards; Carol Channing originated the title role.

Gower Champion directed Robert Preston and Mary Martin in I Do! I Do! by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. After opening in December of 1966, the two-character show ran for over a year and introduced one hit song to the public: "My Cup Runneth Over."

The musical theatre version of a 1933 film, 42nd Street, opened in August of 1980. It told a theatrical tale about a hoofer who is thrust into a leading role when the star is injured. Aside from the story, other old items in this show were, fortunately, the songs. Some came from the movie, some not. All of the music was by Harry Warren, with lyrics primarily by Al Dubin, but some lyrics also came from Johnny Mercer and Mort Dixon. For a financially strapped Broadway, 42nd Street had an unusually large ensemble, probably due to the non-penny-pinching David Merrick, who was the producer. Gower Champion directed and choreographed. On opening night, Merrick waited until the curtain call to tell the cast and audience that Champion had died that day. The show was a huge hit, running for well over eight years. In 1981, Champion was posthumously given the Tony for Best Choreography; the show also won the Tony for Best Musical.

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