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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. The lyric-theatre debut of Shirley Booth (1898 - 1992) took place when Hollywood Pinafore opened in May of 1945. Remembered by most as TV's Hazel the maid, this under-rated actress could also sing. No stranger to Broadway (she made her debut in 1925 in a straight play called Hell's Bells with another newcomer, Humphrey Bogart), she went on to star in several more musicals before moving to TV and film. She is one of only seven performers (and only two women) who won both a Tony (one of her three) and an Oscar Award for Best Actor in the same role in each medium. The role was Lola Delaney in Come Back Little Sheba; the other performers who achieved this mark were Yul Brynner (The King And I), Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady), Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker), Joel Grey (Cabaret), Paul Scofield (A Man For All Seasons), and Jack Albertson (The Subject Was Roses). Note that three of the seven were in musicals. During her lengthy career, Booth won virtually every award a performer can earn, including recognition from the Cannes Film Festival, the New York Film Critics Circle, two Emmys, two Golden Globes and was even anointed Woman of the Year in 1954 (long before the Hazel TV series) by Harvard's Hasty Pudding drama club.

Though Carol Channing first appeared in New York at the Mecca Temple (not a theatre) in a 1941 three-concert run of Marc Blitzstein's No For An Answer, most consider her Broadway musical debut her appearance in Lend An Ear, which opened in December of 1948. This revue ran for a year, and Channing won a Theatre World award for her performance. Remarkably, every show she ever appeared in on Broadway received a Tony award or nomination. She also received 5 Emmy nominations (winning one) an Oscar Award nomination, a Golden Globe award, a Lifetime Achievement (Tony) award, Best Night Club Act of the Year award, received ten gold record albums and was named Woman of the Year by Harvard's Hasty Pudding Club. Channing counts among her highest honors her appearance on then-President Richard Nixon's "Hate List."

House of Flowers, which opened in December of 1954, contains a couple of premieres. It was the debut of Truman Capote as a libretto and lyric writer for a Broadway musical. Harold Arlen wrote the music. The show was also the Broadway debut of Diahann Carroll. Diahann Carroll has broken much new ground in her career. She is the first African-American actress in television history to star in her own series (NBC's Julia, which received an emmy nomination and won a Golden Globe award in its first year). In 1984 she became the first African-American actress in a continuing starring role in the TV show Dynasty. She was the first African-American actress to replace a white star on Broadway (in Agnes of God). She has numerous Emmy nominations from her TV career, her recordings have received Grammy nominations and her film work has earned her a Best Actress Oscar Award nomination. Carroll won a Tony for her performance in Richard Rodgers' No Strings.

Maggie Smith had appeared in college dramas (at Oxford, no less) but her professional and Broadway debut was in a musical revue. Opening in mid-June, New Faces of 1956 had at least one skit written by Neil Simon and Dan Simon. Even with their help and a six-month run, the show was a flop. Maggie Smith joined the Old Vic Company in 1959. Since then, she has worked with the National Theatre, at the Globe Theatre, at Stratford (Ontario) and in West End productions, and she has countless television and film credits. She has two Best Actress Oscar Awards (and two additional Academy Award nominations) and has won other Best Actress awards from the Evening Standard (five times), the Society of Film and Television Arts, BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and the Royal Television Society. Smith is also a two-time Golden Globe winner and has won a Variety Club award. On Broadway, she was nominated for three Tony Awards, winning once. She was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1970 and became Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1989. She has more recently delighted film audiences in her portrayal of Minerva McGonagall in the popular Harry Potter movies.

October of 1979 brought some old-style entertainment in a new musical called Sugar Babies. The pranks, puns and pratfalls of burlesque were all there, along with tap queen Ann Miller and, in his Broadway debut, Mickey Rooney. The piece was conceived by Ralph G. Allen and Harry Rigby. Lyrics were provided by Dorothy Fields and Al Dubin. Jimmy McHugh, along with a committee of 13 other composers, provided music. Rooney and Miller were nominated for Tony awards and Rooney received a Theatre World special award in 1980. Sugar Babies was also the Broadway debut of actress/singer Ann Jillian, who had already appeared in two movie musicals. Mickey Rooney was less than two years old when he first appeared on stage as part of his family's vaudeville act. He made his first movie at age six, and by age 13 he had completed more than 50 two-reelers. Between his 17th and 27th birthdays he played the title role in 15 Andy Hardy movies. After that, he made a series of movie musicals opposite Judy Garland. Though his career started in the theatre, he only appeared in two Broadway shows (Sugar Babies and The Will Rogers Follies as a replacement player). Meanwhile, he completed more than 200 films, received an Honorary Oscar Award for Lifetime Achievement, a special Juvenile Oscar Award he shared with Deana Durbin in 1939, five Oscar Award nominations, one Emmy Award, five Emmy Nominations and two Golden Globe awards.

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