National Theatre

The National Theatre is located in Washington, D.C. and is a venue for a variety of live stage productions with seating for 1,676. Despite its name, it is not a governmentally funded national theatre, but operated by a private, non-profit organization.


History

This historic playhouse was founded on December 7, 1835, by William Corcoran and other prominent citizens who wanted the national capital to have a first-rate theater. The theater's initial production was Man of the World. The theater has been in almost continuous operation since, at the same Pennsylvania Avenue location a few blocks from the White House. Its name was changed at times to "Grover's National Theatre," and "Grover's Theatre," as management changed. Famed actor Joseph Jefferson managed the theater at one time. The structure has been rebuilt several times, including partial reconstructions after five fires in the 19th century. The current building, at 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, was constructed in 1923, opening in September of that year.

Located three blocks from the White House, the theater has entertained every U.S. President of the United States since Andrew Jackson.

Like many theaters in the U.S. prior to the civil rights movement, the National Theatre was racially segregated. Black actors were allowed to appear, but African Americans were forbidden to attend performances. During the Washington run of Porgy and Bess in 1936, the castâas led by Todd Duncanâprotested the audience's segregation. Duncan stated that he "would never play in a theater which barred him from purchasing tickets to certain seats because of his race." Management would give into the demands and allow for the first integrated performance at National Theatre. A movement to integrate the playhouse was spearheaded by actor Helen Hayes, educator Gilbert V. Hartke, O.P., Washington art impresario Patrick Hayes, and Washington Post theater critic Richard L. Coe. When that effort failed, they persuaded Actors Equity performers to refuse to play at the theater. Rather than desegregating, the New York management discontinued live performances in 1948. One prestige attraction, the Washington premier of the British film The Red Shoes, was presented. Then the theater remained dark until it reopened as an integrated theater in 1952.

In 1974, the not-for-profit National Theatre Corporation was established by Roger L. Stevens, Maurice B. Tobin, Donn B. Murphy and others to save the failing enterprise, in the wake of racial riots, and a downtown made unfashionable by the growth of the surrounding suburbs.

The theater underwent a major renovation in 1982-1983, when the original wing housing dressing rooms was replaced with a modern structure. The refurbished structure opened in concert with the redevelopment of that part of downtown Washington, D.C. that included The Shops at National Place, the 774 room flagship JW Marriott Hotel, and National Press Club. Stage designer Oliver Smith supervised the interior design. The 1835 stone foundations and brick stage house still exist, although the rock work is now reinforced with steel caissons to resist erosion by the Tiber Creek, which flows beneath the building. From the stage, President Ronald Reagan saluted the refurbished "neighborhood theatre" in January 1984.

Among the Broadway productions which have had out-of-town try-outs at the National are Amadeus, Crazy for You, Hello, Dolly!, Show Boat and West Side Story.


Performers

The many performers who have appeared at the theatre include Pearl Bailey, Ethel Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore and John Barrymore, Warren Beatty, Sarah Bernhardt, Claire Bloom, Edwin Booth, John Wilkes Booth, Fanny Brice, Carol Channing, George M. Cohan, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Cornell, Hume Cronyn, Tim Curry, Denishawn, Ruth Draper, Todd Duncan, Maurice Evans, Lillian Gish, Ruth Gordon, Julie Harris, Rex Harrison, Helen Hayes, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Joseph Jefferson, James Earl Jones, Lucille La Verne, Eva LeGallienne, Jerry Lewis, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Eartha Kitt, Ian McKellen, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Rita Moreno, Helen Morgan, Rosie O'Donnell, Laurence Olivier, Annie Oakley, Geraldine Page, Robert Redford, Debbie Reynolds, Chita Rivera, Will Rogers, Rosalind Russell, George C. Scott, Kevin Spacey, Sting, Jessica Tandy, Norma Terris, Marlo Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Franchot Tone, Rip Torn and Liv Ullmann. Winston Churchill once spoke from the stage.


Operations

Today the National Theatre mostly hosts traveling Broadway musicals. It is managed by the non-profit Shubert Organization which also runs 16 Broadway theatres.


Citations
  1. ^ "Porgy and Bess: Today in History, September 2". Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/sep02.html. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  2. ^ "It's Show Time". Washingtonian. September 1998. 

 

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