In 1927, when Ethel Barrymore was appearing at Maxine Elliott’s Theatre in W. Somerset Maugham’s hit play The Constant Wife, playwright Zoë Atkins came to her with an irresistible proposition. Atkins said that the Shuberts wanted Barrymore to star in a new play for them — and were willing to build a theatre in her name if she consented. Barrymore read the play, a religious drama called The Kingdom of God, liked it, and thereupon agreed to switch to Shubert management.
The Ethel Barrymore Theatre, designed by Herbert J. Krapp, opened on the night of December 20, 1928. The star played Sister Gracia, a character who aged from 19 to 70. Wrote Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times: “As the curtain raiser for a splendid new theatre that fittingly bears her own name, Ethel Barrymore has chosen a quiet and elusive piece by that dexterous Spaniard, G. Martinez Sierra. For Miss Barrymore, it serves as a vehicle.” Critic Heywood Broun was more enthusiastic. He wrote: “Miss Barrymore’s performance is the most moving piece of acting I have ever seen in the theatre.”
With more than 1,000 seats, the Barrymore was ideal for dramas, comedies, and intimate musicals. Barrymore chose for her next appearance at her theatre one of those Hungarian romances in which the lovers are named He and She. The Love Duel, as it was called, starred Barrymore as She and Louis Calhern as He, and it was directed (as The Kingdom of God had been) by E. M. Blythe (who happened to be Ethel Barrymore). This Hungarian trifle ran for 88 performances.
In 1929 John Drinkwater’s hit comedy Bird in Hand moved to the Barrymore from the Morosco for three months. This was followed by a fascinating drama called Death Takes a Holiday, in which Philip Merivale played death on vacation, masquerading as Prince Sirki. Death falls in love with a young mortal named Grazia (Rose Hobart) and takes her with him (willingly) as he returns to “the other side.” This fanciful play engrossed theatregoers for 181 performances.
Topaze, a popular comedy, moved here from the Music Box in 1930, with Frank Morgan, Catherine Willard, and Clarence Derwent. Miriam Hopkins appeared very fleetingly in another of those Hungarian romances, His Majesty’s Car. Ethel Barrymore returned in Scarlet Sister Mary, which ran for only 23 performances. It did, however, serve to introduce Barrymore’s daughter, Ethel Barrymore Colt, in her Broadway debut.
The beautiful Billie Burke returned to the stage in Ivor Novello’s 1930 play The Truth Game, in which the author also appeared. The Times labeled the work “a perfect matinee comedy,” and audiences flocked to it for 105 performances. The following year brought Edna Best, Basil Rathbone, and Earl Larimore in a French triangle situation, Melo, but it was only moderately successful. Later in the year, Ethel Barrymore returned in Lee Shubert’s revival of The School for Scandal, and this time the actress introduced her son, John Drew Colt, to Broadway.
Socialite/actress Hope Williams starred in something called The Passing Present in 1931, with Maria Ouspenskaya, but this made way after 16 performances for a more deserving production, Whistling in the Dark. Starring the amusing Ernest Truex as a detective-story writer who is forced by a gang of gunmen to concoct a perfect crime, the comedy delighted Barrymore patrons for 144 performances.
Here Today, a “comedy of bad manners,” by George Oppenheimer, directed by George S. Kaufman, amused first-nighters in September 1932 mainly because the acid-mouth character played by Ruth Gordon was supposed to be no less than acid-mouth Dorothy Parker. But the general public did not take to this evening of bitchiness, and the play folded after 39 performances. John Van Druten’s more civilized comedy hit There’s Always Juliet moved here next from Henry Miller’s Theatre.
On November 29, 1932, the Barrymore Theatre housed its first musical, Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce. Fred Astaire, without his sister Adele for the first time, danced with the blonde Claire Luce, who once rode a live ostrich in The Ziegfeld Follies. Astaire and Luce singing and dancing Porter’s haunting “Night and Day” helped to turn this into a hit. The scintillating cast included the venomous Luella Gear and the wry Eric Blore and Erik Rhodes, who would repeat their roles when Astaire appeared in the movie version, slightly retitled The Gay Divorcee. The stage version had to move to the Shubert Theatre to make way for another event at the Barrymore but rang up a total of 248 performances.
On January 24, 1933, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, and Noël Coward dazzled first-nighters in Design for Living, a comedy Coward had promised to write for them and himself as a starring vehicle. Coward, who did not relish long runs, limited this engagement to 135 performances, but it could have run all season. The play presented two men in love with the same woman but, when she was not available, in love with each other. One critic described this as the most amoral situation ever viewed on the Broadway stage. It proved an acting triumph for this gilded trio.
A mystery play, Ten-Minute Alibi, with Bramwell Fletcher, John Williams, and Joseph Spurin-Calleia, was a moderate success in the fall of 1933. This was succeeded by Jezebel, a southern drama by Owen Davis, originally written for Tallulah Bankhead. When she became ill, Miriam Hopkins stepped in, but the play was not a success. It later made an excellent film for Bette Davis.
The year 1934 was not a bountiful one for this theatre. No fewer than seven failures paraded across its stage. Theatregoers looked forward to Noël Coward’s Point Valaine, starring the Lunts, Osgood Perkins, Louis Hayward, and Broderick Crawford, in January 1935, but the play was sordid and overly melodramatic, with Lunt spitting in Fontanne’s face in one scene. This turgid tale of tropical lust expired none too soon after 56 performances.
The hit play The Distaff Side moved here from the Longacre Theatre in March 1935. Later in the year, Philip Merivale and his wife, Gladys Cooper, brought their revivals of Othello and Macbeth, but they were not successful. A historical play, Parnell, with George Curzon as the Irish hero, fared better, playing for 98 performances. Irwin Shaw provided excitement in 1936 with his one-act war play Bury the Dead, paired with another short work, Prelude, by J. Edward Shugrue and John O’Shaughnessy, which moved theatregoers for 97 performances. In the fall of 1936, the British playwright/actor Emlyn Williams starred in his terrifying Night Must Fall, based on an actual case in the British courts. He played a charming psychopath who carries around the head of one of his victims in a hatbox. May Whitty (later Dame May Whitty) played his intended next victim.
On December 26, 1936, Clare Boothe Luce’s play The Women opened at this theatre with about 40 women in the cast and not one male. Critic Brooks Atkinson called it “a kettle of venom” in The New York Times and said he disliked it. It promptly became the Barrymore’s longest-running play to date, keeping that kettle bubbling for 657 performances, with such brittle actresses as Ilka Chase, Margalo Gillmore, Betty Lawford, Arlene Francis, Audrey Christie, and Marjorie Main.
In October 1938 the Playwrights’ Company presented the Maxwell Anderson/Kurt Weill musical Knickerbocker Holiday, starring Walter Huston as Peter Stuyvesant. It is chiefly remembered today for Huston’s magnificent rendition of the classic “September Song.”
The spring of 1939 brought Katharine Cornell in a rarity — a modern comedy by S. N. Behrman called No Time for Comedy. Laurence Olivier costarred as her playwright husband who is swayed by his mistress (Margalo Gillmore) to switch from writing hit comedies and instead attempt a stuffy drama. The public took to Cornell in high-fashion gowns by Valentina, and the comedy ran for 185 performances, with Olivier turning into a matinee idol.
The last show to play this theatre in the 1930s was Maxwell Anderson’s Key Largo, a moderate hit with Paul Muni, Uta Hagen, José Ferrer, and Carl (later Karl) Malden. It ran for 105 performances.
Highlights of the 1940s at the Barrymore included Ethel Barrymore’s last appearance at her theatre, in a weak play by Vincent Sheean called An International Incident. On Christmas night 1940, Rodgers and Hart and John O’Hara brought in a landmark musical that shocked some of the critics. It was Pal Joey, the tough chronicle of a Chicago heel (Gene Kelly) who is kept by a rich adulteress (Vivienne Segal). The memorable score contained “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “I Could Write a Book,” and some great musical comedy numbers that stopped the show. The cast also included June Havoc, Van Johnson, Leila Ernst, and Jack Durant. It ran for 270 performances. When it was revived in the 1950s, it shocked no one and it played a triumphant 540 performances, the longest Broadway run of any Rodgers and Hart show.
George Abbott, who produced and staged Pal Joey, brought another musical hit here on October 1, 1941: the prep-school show Best Foot Forward, detailing what happens when a movie queen visits a campus as a publicity stunt. The star was Rosemary Lane, but the show was stolen by Nancy Walker, June Allyson, and Maureen Cannon as students. It ran for 326 performances.
This was followed by a musical failure, Count Me In, written by Walter Kerr (before he was a critic) and Leo Brady, with such talents as Charles Butterworth, Luella Gear, Hal LeRoy, Mary Healy, and Gower and Jeanne (Champion).
The early 1940s are remembered for Katharine Cornell’s production of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters (1942), in which she starred with Ruth Gordon and Judith Anderson. The distinguished cast also included Gertrude Musgrove, Dennis King, Edmund Gwenn, Alexander Knox, McKay Morris, Kirk Douglas, Tom Powers, and Marie Paxton. This splendid production was directed by Cornell’s husband, Guthrie McClintic, and played for 123 performances. Ralph Bellamy and Shirley Booth appeared in an enormous success, Tomorrow the World, by James Gow and Arnaud d’Usseau in 1943, which showed what happened to members of an American family who sheltered a 12-year-old boy (Skippy Homeier) brought up in Germany as a Nazi.
A series of revivals played this theatre in the mid-1940s: Katharine Cornell and Brian Aherne in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1945); Gertrude Lawrence, Raymond Massey and Melville Cooper in Pygmalion (1945); Elisabeth Bergner, John Carradine, and Canada Lee in The Duchess of Malfi (1946); and José Ferrer in his acclaimed revival of Cyrano de Bergerac, which moved here from the Alvin Theatre (1946).
Gian-Carlo Menotti’s twin opera bill, The Telephone and The Medium (1947), received high praise, especially for Marie Powers’s electrifying performance in the latter.
On December 3, 1947, the Barrymore Theatre presented its most distinguished offering, Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century. Jessica Tandy won a Tony Award for her unforgettable performance as Blanche DuBois, and the inspired acting of Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden made this a historic night in the American theatre. The haunting drama won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the season and ran for 855 performances. During the run, Anthony Quinn and Uta Hagen succeeded Brando and Tandy.
Gian-Carlo Menotti returned in 1950 with another superb opera, The Consul, a harrowing work about postwar Europe, with magnificent performances by Patricia Neway and Marie Powers. Irene Mayer Selznick, who produced A Streetcar Named Desire, piloted another hit at this theatre in 1950 when she presented Rex Harrison and his then-wife, Lili Palmer, in John Van Druten’s beguiling comedy about witchcraft, Bell, Book and Candle. The silken duo enchanted audiences for 233 performances. Another huge hit opened on October 24, 1951, when Jessica Tandy and her husband, Hume Cronyn, starred in Jan de Hartog’s two-character comedy The Fourposter, which won a Tony Award as the season’s Best Play and another Tony for its director, José Ferrer. The play, about events in the 35-year married life of a couple simply named Agnes and Michael, ran for 632 performances. It was later adapted as the musical I Do! I Do!
A spirited revival of Shaw’s Misalliance, with William Redfield, Roddy McDowall, Richard Kiley, Tamara Geva, and Jerome Kilty, moved here from the New York City Center in 1953. Later that year, Robert Anderson’s first Broadway play, Tea and Sympathy, with Deborah Kerr, John Kerr, and Leif Erickson, presented a poignant study of a young prep-school student who is suspected of being gay in an extremely closeted era. One of the first broadly popular plays to deal with this formerly taboo subject, the drama ran for 712 performances. John Kerr won a Tony Award for his performance.
In February 1955 Paul Newman returned to the stage in a thriller by Joseph Hayes called The Desperate Hours. It was one of those plays in which criminals hide out in a pleasant family’s house and terrorize them. The excellent cast also included Karl Malden, Nancy Coleman, Patricia Peardon, George Grizzard, James Gregory, and Mary Orr. The Desperate Hours won a Tony Award as Best Play Production and also one for Robert Montgomery’s direction.
Marcel Marceau played an engagement here in 1955, followed by another Irene Mayer Selznick production, the exquisite Enid Bagnold play The Chalk Garden, with sparkling performances by Gladys Cooper, Fritz Weaver, Siobhan McKenna, Betsy von Furstenberg, Percy Waram, and Marian Seldes. The unusual drama played for 182 performances.
The British actress Maggie Smith made her Broadway debut at the Barrymore in June 1956 as one of Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1956. But it was female impersonator T. C. Jones who drew raves for his embodiments of Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, and other stars, and who kept the revue running for 220 performances.
The Barrymore’s next hit was Ketti Frings’s 1957 dramatization of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. It starred Anthony Perkins, Jo Van Fleet, Arthur Hill, Hugh Griffith, Rosemary Murphy, and others, and ran for 564 performances. Another fine drama, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, opened here in March 1959, starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Ruby Dee, and Louis Gossett. This drama, about a black family’s struggles to take its place in the middle class in white America, won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play and had a run of 530 performances.
The smash-hit comedy A Majority of One, starring Gertrude Berg and Cedric Hardwicke, moved here in 1959 from the Shubert Theatre and stayed for eight months. Some highlights of the 1960s included Henry Fonda and Mildred Natwick in Ira Levin’s comedy Critic’s Choice (1960); Michael Redgrave, Sandy Dennis, and Googie Withers in Graham Greene’s comedy The Complaisant Lover (1961); Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland in Garson Kanin’s play A Gift of Time (1962); James Baldwin’s play The Amen Comer (1965); Lee Remick and Robert Duvall in Frederick Knott’s thriller Wait Until Dark (1966); an engagement of Les Ballets Africains (1966); Peter Shaffer’s offbeat twin bill — Black Comedy and White Lies (1967) — with Geraldine Page, Lynn Redgrave, Donald Madden, Michael Crawford, Peter Bull, and Camila Ashland; Noël Coward’s Sweet Potato (1968), a revue of Coward’s songs with Dorothy Loudon, George Grizzard, Carole Shelley, and Arthur Mitchell; and a revival of The Front Page with Robert Ryan, Bert Convy, Doro Merande, Peggy Cass, and Julia Meade (Helen Hayes later joined the cast) in 1969.
The 1970s brought to this theatre Conduct Unbecoming (1970), the British thriller with Jeremy Clyde and Michael Barrington; Alec McCowen in The Philanthropist (1971); Melvin Van Peebles’s vignettes of black life, titled Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death (1971); Pirandello’s Emperor Henry IV (1973), with Rex Harrison; the New Phoenix Repertory Company with revivals of The Visit, Chemin de Fer, and Holiday (1973); Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, and Anne Baxter in two plays by Noël Coward, Noël Coward in Two Keys (1974); John Wood’s Tony Award-winning performance in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (1975), which also won a Tony Award for Best Play; Robert Duvall in David Mamet’s American Buffalo (1977), winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play; the inventive musical I Love My Wife (1977), by Michael Stewart and Cy Coleman; Anthony Perkins and Mia Farrow in Bernard Slade’s Romantic Comedy (1979); Jean Kerr’s Lunch Hour (1980), with Sam Waterston and Gilda Radner; Katharine Hepburn and Dorothy Loudon in Ernest Thompson’s The West Side Waltz (1981); and Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, and Keith Carradine in Foxfire, by Cronyn and Susan Cooper. Tandy won a Tony Award for her performance in this play with music.
In December 1983 the musical Baby arrived, based on a story developed by Susan Yankowitz, with a book by Sybille Pearson, music by David Shire, and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. The interesting entertainment, about a group of expectant parents, received several Tony nominations and ran for 241 performances.
The following year, David Rabe’s scabrous play about Hollywood vermin, Hurlyburly, transferred here from Off-Broadway and starred William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Ron Silver, Jerry Stiller, Sigourney Weaver, Cynthia Nixon, and Judith Ivey. Directed by Mike Nichols, the play ran for 343 performances and won a Tony Award for Ivey as Best Featured Actress. During its run, the following stars succeeded members of the original cast: Candice Bergen, John Christopher Jones, John Rubinstein, Christine Baranski, Frank Langella, and Danny Aiello.
In January 1986 Zoe Caldwell starred in Lillian, a one-woman show by William Luce about writer Lillian Hellman. When the curtain rose on the opening night, there was a gasp in the audience at Caldwell’s remarkable makeup, which made her the spitting image of the fiery authoress.
Social Security, a popular comedy by Andrew Bergman, arrived on April 17, 1986, with this interesting cast: Ron Silver, Marlo Thomas, Joanna Gleason, Kenneth Welsh, Olympia Dukakis, and Stefan Schnabel. Directed by Mike Nichols, the comedy, about a senior citizen who embarks on her last fling with an artist, played here for a year.
An arresting, mystical play, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson, opened on March 27, 1988. Part of Wilson’s epic cycle of plays about black life in America during the twentieth century, it was directed by Lloyd Richards and won a Tony Award for L. Scott Caldwell as Best Featured Actress in a Play. The following year, ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov made his Broadway debut playing a giant insect in Kafka’s Metamorphosis and was nominated for a Tony Award.
David Hare’s play The Secret Rapture (October 26, 1989) caused a brouhaha, not as a play, but as an altercation between the playwright and New York Times critic Frank Rich, who wrote a devastating review of it. Hare wrote a scathing letter to the critic, which somehow got published in newspapers, and the result was much publicity for a play that ran for only ten performances.
On March 25, 1990, a delirious theatrical event occurred at the Barrymore Theatre. The volatile actress Maggie Smith arrived in her London hit Lettice & Lovage by the British playwright Peter Shaffer. The scintillating comedy, about a tour guide who embellishes history with fiction to make it more interesting, won Tony Awards for Smith and Margaret Tyzack (who had appeared in the play in London with Smith). This sparkling theatrical experience ran here for a sold-out ten months and could have run longer if the two actresses had continued to be available.
On February 14, 1991, Mule Bone received its long-delayed Broadway debut. Written in 1930 by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, it had never been performed because of a dispute between the authors. This production had a prologue and epilogue by George Houston Bass and music by Taj Mahal. It ran for 67 performances.
In 1992 the classic A Streetcar Named Desire returned to the Barrymore, this time starring Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange with Amy Madigan and Timothy Carhart. Directed by Gregory Mosher, it had a limited run of four months and garnered a Tony nomination for Baldwin.
Wendy Wasserstein’s popular Off-Broadway play The Sisters Rosensweig moved here on March 18, 1993, from the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center with its original cast, including Jane Alexander, Madeline Kahn (Tony Award), and Robert Klein. It enjoyed a 556-performance run at the Barrymore.
A curious play opened here on April 27, 1995. Called Indiscretions, it was Jeremy Sams’s translation of Jean Cocteau’s play Les Parents Terribles. It had an impressive cast — Kathleen Turner, Eileen Atkins, Jude Law, Roger Rees and Cynthia Nixon — and was directed by Sean Mathias. According to Variety, the drama, which featured incest and male nudity (from future film star Law), received 15 favorable reviews, two mixed and four unfavorable. It ran for 220 performances and received the following Tony Award nominations: Best Actor in a Play (Rees), Best Actress in a Play (Atkins), Best Featured Actor (Law), Best Featured Actress (Nixon), Best Play, Best Director of a Play (Mathias), Best Scenic Designer (Stephen Brimson Lewis), Best Costume Designer (also Lewis), and Best Lighting Designer (Mark Henderson).
The next tenant at the Barrymore was Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, which had not been produced on Broadway since 1918. The 1895 play dealt with political blackmail in London’s high society. This production found favor with critics and audiences for 309 performances. Martin Shaw, who played Lord Goring, was highly praised for his witty performance and was nominated for a Tony Award. Other Tony nominations went to Peter Hall for his direction and to Bill Kenwright for producing a Best Revival of a Play.
A raucous musical exploded next at the Barrymore on April 26, 1997. The Life, with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Ira Gasman, and a book by Gasman, David Newman, and Coleman, had been previously produced Off Off-Broadway at the Westbeth Theater Center. It was a seamy look at the sordid life led by hookers in the Times Square area before the Disney-led 1990's cleanup. The Life received what George S. Kaufman once called “mixed reviews — good and lousy.” One critic called it a morality tale in which everyone pays for their sins. Coleman’s songs were praised, and so was the gritty cast. The musical ran for 466 performances and won Tony Awards for two of its featured performers: Lillias White and Chuck Cooper. Other Tony nominations included Best Actress in a Musical (Pamela Isaacs), Best Featured Actor in Musical (Sam Harris), Best Musical Book (Gasman, Newman, and Coleman), Best Musical, Best Musical Director (Michael Blakemore), Best Costume Designer (Martin Pakledinaz), Best Lighting Designer (Richard Pilbrow), Best Choreographer (Joey McKneely), Best Score (Coleman and Gasman), and Best Orchestrations (Don Sebesky and Harold Wheeler).
From Forty-second Street mayhem, the Barrymore went to ancient Greek violence for its next attraction. On December 3, 1998, a splendid production of Sophocles’ Electra opened with a magnificent cast including Zoë Wanamaker, Claire Bloom, Michael Cumpsty, Pat Carroll, and Stephen Spinella. Wanamaker, who had won an Olivier Award in London for her commanding performance as Electra, was nominated for a Tony Award, as was Bloom as her mother, Clytemnestra. With a new translation by Frank McGuinness, the play also received a nomination for Best Revival. Some critics found Wanamaker’s costume — an oversized trench coat and a fright wig — somewhat bizarre, but her frenzied performance was praised, as were the startling, bloody stage effects. Due to overwhelming ticket demand, the limited engagement was extended an additional nine weeks. The 2,400-year-old play recouped its investment in six weeks, a modern record for a Greek classic.
Another London hit opened at the Barrymore on April 15, 1999: David Hare’s Amy’s View, starring a radiant Judi Dench as a veteran actress who has problems with a grown daughter and with the irritations of contemporary society. For her acclaimed performance, Dench won a Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play. Samantha Bond, who played her daughter, received a nomination as a Best Supporting Actress in a Play. The show ran for 103 performances.
The next show at the Barrymore Theatre had a complex history. Called Putting It Together: A Musical Review [sic], it showcased a rich collection of songs with words and music by Stephen Sondheim. The show originated in 1992 as a Cameron Mackintosh production in Oxford, England. He produced a revised version of the revue in 1993 at the Manhattan Theater Club Off-Broadway, starring Julie Andrews. In the fall of 1998 he produced still another version of the musical at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Starring Carol Burnett, it broke every one of that theatre’s box office records. On November 21, 1999, it opened at the Barrymore with Burnett, George Hearn, John Barrowman, Ruthie Henshall, Bronson Pinchot — and, at certain performances, talk-show hostess Kathie Lee Gifford, substituting for Burnett. It did not repeat the success it had enjoyed at the Mark Taper Forum. Some critics did not feel that Burnett was an ideal Sondheim singer, and they also disliked the show’s frame for Sondheim’s celebrated songs. It ran for 101 performances and was videotaped in the new high-definition format.
The highly anticipated engagement of the new Donmar Warehouse production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing opened here on April 17, 2000, and repeated the great success it had achieved in England. The play starred the lauded Donmar cast led by Stephen Dillane, Jennifer Ehle, Nigel Lindsay, and Sarah Woodward, all making their Broadway debuts, and was directed by David Leveaux. The play dealt with marriage and writing, emotional fidelity and intellectual integrity, high art and pop culture, and truth and acting, both onstage and in real life. The Real Thing won the following Tony Awards: Best Revival, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play (Stephen Dillane), and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (Jennifer Ehle).
In late fall 2000 the Barrymore hosted the transfer of a more successful Manhattan Theatre Club show: The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which featured Linda Lavin, Michele Lee, and Tony Roberts, and marked the Broadway playwriting debut of Charles Busch, previously known for his Off-Broadway campfests, including Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. Tale got told a lucky 777 times.
The rivalry between writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy inspired a December 2002 musical experiment called Imaginary Friends, a “play with music” by Nora Ephron, with original songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia. Swoosie Kurtz and Cherry Jones played the literary lionesses in this ahead-of-its-time curiosity that turned to song and dance only when it wanted to. Unable to pigeonhole it, audiences stayed away, and the run ended after just 76 showings.
April 30, 2003, saw the return of Oscar Wilde’s Salome in a version Al Pacino had been exploring in New York and regionally for a decade. With Dianne Wiest as Herodias, and Marisa Tomei performing the Dance of the Seven Veils in the title role, this “Staged Reading” version lasted 40 performances.
Sly Fox, Larry Gelbart’s Americanized adaptation of Molière’s Volpone, got a Broadway revival on April 1, 2004, with Richard Dreyfuss as con man Foxwell J. Sly, supported by a sparkling cast of New York and Hollywood character actors including Bob Dishy, René Auberjonois, Elizabeth Berkley, Professor Irwin Corey, Bronson Pinchot, and Rachel York. Audiences laughed for 173 performances.
Charm replaced laughter for the March 22, 2005, revival of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, featuring Jessica Lange as Amanda, Christian Slater as her son, Sarah Paulson as Laura, and Josh Lucas as the Gentleman Caller. Directed by David Leveaux, it lasted four months.
Richard Maltby Jr. had enjoyed Tony-winning success with the Fats Waller revue Ain’t Misbehavin’. On November 29, 2006, he attempted a similar tribute to country music icon Johnny Cash in the revue Ring of Fire. But producers discovered that the Man in Black just didn’t have as big a following in the city as he did in the country. The cast shed “Bitter Tears” after just 57 performances.
John Doyle had enjoyed Tony-winning success with a version of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd that required the actors to double as the orchestra. He tried the formula again at the Barrymore on November 29, 2006, with a revival of Sondheim’s Company, starring Raúl Esparza as uncertain bachelor Bobby. It was named Best Revival of a Musical and ran 246 performances.
The rock group Duran Duran hoped to kick off the release of its new album with the concert show Duran Duran: Red Carpet Massacre here in November 2007, but the show arrived just in time to be shuttered by a stagehands' strike. Massacre did not resume after the strike was settled.
A rare David Mamet comedy arrived at the Barrymore January 17, 2008. Titled November, it parodied presidential politics. Running catastrophically behind in a race for reelection, President Charles Smith (Nathan Lane) tries to turn a ritual pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey into a source of cash and publicity. Laurie Metcalf and Dylan Baker were among the bright supporting cast, and the show stayed through the summer of the real presidential race, totaling 205 performances.
Speed-the-Plow, Mamet’s vivisection of West Coast showbiz decision makers, got a creditable revival here on October 23, 2008, notable primarily for Raúl Esparza’s performance as Charlie Fox, which went off like a string of firecrackers. But tabloids pulled back the curtain on a bit of East Coast showbiz, as well, when Esparza’s costar Jeremy Piven abruptly quit the show. He claimed mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi. The departure was eventually blessed by an arbitrator after producers filed a complaint with the union. But for months that excuse was used as a punch line by late-night comedians and even referenced at the following year’s Tony Awards. Mamet himself cracked that Piven had left to take a job as a thermometer.
Absurdist master Eugene Ionesco found himself with a Broadway hit in March 2009, 15 years after his death: Exit the King, about a group of courtiers trying to hasten the end of their sovereign as their unnamed country (and the palace itself) crumbles around them. Geoffrey Rush earned the 2009 Tony Award as Best Actor in a Play for his performance as spectral King Berenger, clad only in a crown and long underwear. The sterling supporting cast included Susan Sarandon, Lauren Ambrose, and Andrea Martin, and they helped draw crowds through the 93-performance limited run.
The third Mamet play in less than two years arrived at the Barrymore on December 6, 2009, and it was the most explosive of the three: Race, a drama about a multiracial law firm that takes on a white client involved in a crime against a black woman. The original cast featured David Alan Grier, James Spader, Richard Thomas, and Kerry Washington; the replacement cast featured Dennis Haysbert, Eddie Izzard, and Afton C. Williamson.
Elling, a comedy about odd-couple roommates, attracted a high-profile cast (Brendan Fraser, Denis O'Hare, Jennifer Coolidge, Richard Easton, and Jeremy Shamos), but couldn't attract an audience and closed a week after Opening Night.
The Barrymore was the last of the pre-Depression playhouses to be built and remains one of the few Broadway theatres that has never changed name or owner.