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The Nederlander has had a long and distinguished history as the National Theatre, the Billy Rose and the Trafalgar. The National Theatre opened in 1921; it was renamed the Billy Rose in 1959, when the famed producer/songwriter bought it; christened the Trafalgar in 1979 when it was bought by James and Joseph Nederlander and the British firm of Cooney-Marsh; and renamed The Nederlander in 1980 in honor of the late David Tobias Nederlander, whose sons now operate the Nederlander Organization.
The most recent productions in this beautiful theatre have been Stacey Keach in Solitary Confinement; Our Country's Good; Sherlock's Last Case starring Frank Langella; the dance production Dangerous Games; the musicals Raggedy Ann and Wind in the Willows; Glenda Jackson in O'Neill's Strange Interlude; and Peter Ustinov's Beethoven's Tenth. Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road starred Ellen Burstyn and Joseph Maher, and this was followed by a musical version of James Baldwin's Amen Corner.
In 1981 Lena Horne dazzled Nederlander audiences in her one-woman show—Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which won her a special Tony Award. During its time as the Trafalgar, this theatre housed two British hits: Whose Life Is It Anyway? starring Tom Conti (Tony Award) and Pinter's Betrayal starring Raul Julia, Blythe Danner and Roy Scheider.
As the Billy Rose Theatre, it housed the following productions: Brian Bedford and Jill Clayburgh in Tom Stoppard's Jumpers (1974); Pinter's Old Times starring Robert Shaw, Mary Ure and Rosemary Harris (1971); Peter Brook's acclaimed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1971); Brian Bedford and Tammy Grimes (Tony Award) in Private Lives (1969); Edward Albee's Tony Award-winning scorcher, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962); and the Billy Rose Theatre's opening production, Heartbreak House, with Maurice Evans and an all-star cast (1959).
In its many years as the National Theatre, this house offered such distinguished fare as Paul Muni, Ed Begley and Tony Randall in Inherit the Wind— this theatre's longest-running play (806 performances with Tony Awards for Muni, Begley and set designer Peter Larkin—1955); Margaret Sullavan and Joseph Cotton in the charming Sabrina Fair (1953); Katharine Cornell, Grace George and Brian Aherne in Maugham's The Constant Wife (1951); Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Lilli Palmer and Arthur Treacher in Caesar and Cleopatra (1949); John Garfield and Nancy Kelly in Odets's The Big Knife (1949); Carol Channing in the sensational revue Lend an Ear (1948); Judith Anderson (Tony Award), John Gielgud and Florence Reed in Medea (1947); the hit military revue Call Me Mister (1946); Sidney Kingsley's The Patriots (N.Y. Drama Critics Circle Award—Best Play, 1943); Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson in their memorable Macbeth (1941); Ethel Barrymore in her most cherished role in The Corn Is Green (1940).
There were hits galore at the National in the 1930's: Tallulah Bankhead in her greatest hit— Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes (1939); Orson Welles and his epic Mercury Theatre players in Julius Caesar and The Shoemaker's Holiday (1938); Gertrude Lawrence and Noël Coward in nine one-act Coward plays collectively called Tonight at 8:30 (1936); Raymond Massey, Ruth Gordon and Pauline Lord in an admirable production of Ethan Frome (1936); O'Casey's Within the Gates starring Lillian Gish (1934); and Herman Shumlin's famed production of Grand Hotel starring Eugenie Leontovich, Sam Jaffe and Henry Hull the first revolving stage used in a Broadway play.
In the 1920's Houdini appeared at this theatre; hit plays included Ann Harding in The Trial of Mary Dugan; Spencer Tracy in Yellow; the excellent prison drama The Criminal Code; Florence Eldridge in the creepy The Cat and the Canary; Walter Hampden in his celebrated interpretations of Cyrano de Bergerac and Hamlet; and Sidney Howard's Swords, which opened the National Theatre on September 1, 1921. Howard married his leading lady, Clare Eames, and the marriage lasted far longer than the play.
Written by Louis Botto