Tap Treasures 2016

 


 

The New Amsterdam Theatre, located at 214 West 42nd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in the Theater District of Manhattan, New York City, off of Times Square, is the oldest surviving Broadway venue. The theater was built in 1902–1903 and was designed by the architecture firm of Henry Hertz and Hugh Gallant; the Roof Garden, where more risqué productions were presented, was added in 1904.

One of the first musicals presented at the New Amsterdam was tap choreographer Ned Wayburn’s Girls of 1904. Forty-five Minutes from Broadway, a play in three acts with book, lyrics, and music written by tap impresario George M. Cohan, opened January 1, 1906. Staged by Cohan, the musical starred Fay Templeton and Victor Moore, who made popular the song "Mary is a Grand Old Name," a classic song and soft-shoe dance, performed by Mary Jane Jenkins, the housemaid, played by Templeton.

From 1913 to 1927, the theater was the home of the Ziegfeld Follies, whose producer, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., maintained an office in the building, and operated a nightclub on the roof. Ziegfeld Follies of 1913 starred Bert Williams and tap dance star Ann Pennington. Williams provided the high spot, singing "Darktown Poker Club,” following it with his single-handed card game. Pennington danced a buck and wing. Attention was also gained by the Ziegfeld Girls, a line of slim chorus girls dancing translated-for-the-chorus line versions of eccentric dance moves. Ziegfeld brought numbers from J. Leubrie Hill's all-black production of Darktown Follies, and brought in that musical’s dancing star Ethel Williams to coach the Ziegfeld cast. The Darktown Follies number, "At the Ball," became the greatest hit Ziegfeld ever had.
George White's Scandals featured plenty of tap dancing. The Scandals and Eva LeGallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre were subsequent tenants at the New Amsterdam Theatre. It was used as a movie theater beginning in 1937, closed in 1985, and was leased by The Walt Disney Company and then renovated by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer in 1995–97 to be the flagship for Disney Theatrical Productions presentations on Broadway. ATDF board member Randy Skinner held auditions here in 2001 for his revival of 42nd Street. Both the Beaux-Arts exterior and the Art Nouveau interior of the building were designated New York City landmarks in 1979. In addition, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

By Constance Valis Hill (2016)

Sources:

Tap Dance in America: A Twentieth-Century Chronology of Tap on Stage, Screen, and Media, by Constance Valis Hill (Library of Congress http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/html/tda/tda-home.html.

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