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.
By Constance Valis Hill (2016)
American Tap Dance Foundation
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