The Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, built at a cost of $9.7 million, opened on October 21, 1965. It was named for the philanthropist who donated half of its construction cost. A smaller performing space downstairs in the same building was first called the Forum, then later changed to the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, for another donor.
The Beaumont was designed by the distinguished set designer Jo Mielziner and the noted architect Eero Saarinen. It had 1,140 seats when proscenium staging was used and 1,083 when the thrust stage was employed. The color scheme was a pleasing red and brown.
When the Beaumont opened it was designated as the home of the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center. Codirected by Elia Kazan and Robert Whitehead, this company had been operating for two seasons downtown at the ANTA Washington Square Theater while the Beaumont was under construction. The troupe moved to the Beaumont under the management of Herbert Blau and Jules Irving. Their plan for the Beaumont was to create a “theatre of loud involvement” with plays that would fill the large stage with modern social and emotional significance. Among the actors who regularly appeared in productions during those early years were Philip Bosco, Nancy Marchand, Aline MacMahon, and Robert Symonds.
The first production was Georg Büchner’s Danton’s Death — certainly a large and loud play — about the French Revolution. It was directed by Blau, had magnificent sets by Mielziner, and had a cast that included James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach, and Symonds. The physical production was praised, but the play was considered dull. (Orson Welles had also failed when his Mercury Theatre had produced the work.)
The three other plays produced that first season were Wycherley’s The Country Wife with Elizabeth Huddle and Symonds (who also directed); the American premiere of Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Condemned of Altona with George Coulouris; and the New York premiere of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, adapted by Eric Bentley, in which actors wore masks. This surrealistic play, directed by Irving, was considered the best production offered by the company that season.
The first season was a financial success, with most subscribers signing up for the next year, but it was not an artistic success. Otis L. Guernsey Jr., editor of the Best Plays annual, complained that the company hadn’t found itself yet and criticized the fact that they presented no American plays.
For its second season, the company began with a revival of Ben Johnson’s The Alchemist with Michael O’Sullivan, Marchand, Bosco, MacMahon, and Symonds. Next came Lorca’s Yerma with Frank Langella, Maria Tucci, MacMahon, and Marchand. The third offering was the group’s first American play — The East Wind by Leo Lehman — with Estelle Parsons, George Voskovec, Bosco, and MacMahon. This satisfied the critics who complained that the company was not doing new or even old American plays. The fourth subscription play was a revival of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo, adapted by Charles Laughton. Anthony Quayle played the title character, supported by Parsons and others of the rep company. The play dramatized 1600s astronomer Galileo’s battle for intellectual freedom against the Church, which forced him to recant his theory of the movement of the planets around the sun.
On January 13, 1967, Herbert Blau resigned as codirector of the Lincoln Center Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center and Irving remained as its sole director. During 1967 the Beaumont was rented twice. On July 8, 1967, Alexander H. Cohen presented Peter Ustinov’s The Unknown Soldier and His Wife, directed by John Dexter. The cast of this war drama included Brian Bedford, Christopher Walken, Melissa C. Murphy, Howard Da Silva, Bob Dishy, and many others. It played at the Beaumont for 84 performances, then moved to the George Abbott Theatre for an additional 64.
On October 26, 1987, the Beaumont presented a special invitational production of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. The all-star cast — Anne Bancroft, E. G. Marshall, George C. Scott, Margaret Leighton, Maria Tucci, Austin Pendleton, and Richard A. Dysart — was directed brilliantly by Mike Nichols. The production was so successful that it moved to a commercial run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Critics were beginning to have more faith in the Beaumont.
On January 4, 1968, with Irving still the company’s director, the Beaumont presented Shaw’s Saint Joan with Diana Sands in the title role. It played for 44 performances. This was followed by Christopher Fry’s adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s Tiger at the Gates, directed by Anthony Quayle and starring Diana Sands, M’el Dowd, Bosco, and Symonds. It also played for 44 performances. Symonds next played the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac, with Suzanne Grossman as Roxane.
In June 1968 the Lincoln Center Festival ’68 presented Paris’s Compagnie de Théâtre de la Cité de Villeurbanne in three plays: The Three Musketeers, George Dandin, and Tartuffe for a limited engagement of 24 performances. Also part of the festival was Brian Friel’s Lovers, starring Art Carney, which ran for 149 performances. Lee J. Cobb starred next in King Lear, playing in repertory with William Gibson’s A Cry of Players. The double bill stayed for 72 performances.
In April 1969 Heinar Kipphardt’s In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer opened with Joseph Wiseman in the title role. It closed that month but returned in June with Paul Sparer as Oppenheimer. During the play’s absence, Robert Symonds, Blythe Danner, and Philip Bosco cavorted in Moliere’s The Miser for 52 performances.
On November 6, 1969, William Saroyan’s whimsical comedy The Time of Your Life was revived with James Broderick, Philip Bosco, and Susan Tyrrell in lead roles. It played for 52 performances. It was followed by Tennessee Williams’s curious play Camino Real, with Jessica Tandy and Al Pacino in the lead roles, which mystified the subscribers for 52 performances. Next was a new play by Sam Shepard called Operation Sidewinder, and it was staged with dazzling surrealism. The story involved a deadly military device — a large mechanical rattlesnake — and there was much violence and loud rock music onstage. George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly’s 1924 fantasy Beggar on Horseback arrived next, with Leonard Frey as a struggling artist about to be trapped in a loveless marriage to a wealthy woman. Much of the action occurred in the hero’s dreams. Critics saluted the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center for presenting an all-American season of plays — both new and old. The Sam Shepard play was judged to be the most interesting.
Four plays were presented in the 1970-71 season. Colleen Dewhurst starred in The Good Woman of Setzuan by Bertolt Brecht. David Birney, Frances Sternhagen, Philip Bosco, and Tandy Cronyn were in Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World. Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People was revived with Stephen Elliott, Bosco, David Birney, and Barbara Cason. The final production of the season was Sophocles’s Antigone, adapted by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald, with Martha Henry as Antigone, Cronyn as Ismene, and Bosco as Creon. The critics pronounced it to be a distinguished season for the Beaumont.
The 1971-72 season brought a revival of Schiller’s Mary Stuart, with Salomé Jens in the title role and Nancy Marchand as Queen Elizabeth. A very promising actor, Andy Robinson (later to chill audiences as the sniper in the film Dirty Harry), appeared in this play as Sir William Davison and in many other productions of the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center. This production also marked the American premiere of Stephen Spender’s translation of the play.
Next came Narrow Road to the Deep North by Edward Bond, a boring, symbolic play set in Japan. It was followed by a revival of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night starring Blythe Danner as Viola, René Auberjonois as Malvolio, Leonard Frey as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Moses Gunn as Orsino.
The last production of the season was a revival of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible. This production, with Robert Foxworth as John Proctor, was enthusiastically received but somewhat dampened by Arthur Miller’s denunciation of the Lincoln Center Board of Directors as being ignorant of how to run a repertory company. This attack appeared in several publications, including The New York Times. Wrote Miller: “The first order of business now is to get clear in our own minds what a repertory theater is, what it can do and what is financially needed to do it. Then, if we are convinced of its value, a considered serious attempt must be made to transform Lincoln Center into such a theater.”
The 1972-73 season brought Gorky’s Enemies, O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire.
A dramatic event occurred during this season. Artistic director Jules Irving announced he was leaving the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center. He was displeased with how the board of directors managed the company. The Forum Theater had been reduced to showing films; the board nearly permitted the destruction of the company’s storage space for scenery and, most seriously, failed to provide the necessary financing for a true repertory company — a staple of British theatre, but an elusive ideal in American theatre to the time of this writing. A meeting was held and the board considered renting the Beaumont to outside productions. A touring company of Man of La Mancha had done very well the previous summer as an extra attraction at the Beaumont. (After all, it had started at the downtown ANTA Theater, the original home of the company.)
But no, something else was proposed and sanctioned. Joseph Papp, head of the New York Shakespeare Festival, would take over with his own board. Papp immediately began raising financing for his project, and when the Rockefeller Foundation granted $350,000 and Mrs. Samuel I. Newhouse donated $1 million, the name of the Forum Theater was changed to the Mitzi E. Newhouse.
Papp announced that he would continue to produce experimental plays downtown at his Public Theatre stages, and his Shakespeare summer productions at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, but he would present more finished plays at the Beaumont. His company was in residence at the Beaumont from 1973 to 1977, presenting only new plays at first, rather than classics. During this time he also staged productions in the Newhouse. Among his offerings were David Rabe’s In the Boom Boom Room, an expensive failure with Madeline Kahn; The Au Pair Man by Hugh Leonard, with Julie Harris and Charles Durning; What the Wine Sellers Buy by Ron Miller; a revival of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death with Zoe Caldwell, Robert Shaw, and Hector Elizondo; and a powerful prison drama called Short Eyes by Miguel Piñero, which transferred to the Beaumont from the downtown Public Theater. Short Eyes was judged the strongest entry of Papp’s inaugural season at this theatre. Otis L. Guernsey Jr. wrote in The Best Plays of 1972-1973: “Joseph Papp’s first season at the Vivian Beaumont was one of adventure for the Lincoln Center subscription audiences (and audiences who aren’t adventurous don’t belong at Papp productions).”
In 1974-75 Papp presented Mert & Phil by Anne Burr, Black Picture Show by Bill Gunn, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with Liv Ullmann and Sam Waterston, and Little Black Sheep by Anthony Scully. Papp was upset by the public’s lack of response to his new-play schedule at the Beaumont and announced that in the future he would mainly do revivals there.
His next season included Trelawny of the “Wells” by Arthur Wing Piñero, with a cast full of future stars: Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, Walter Abel, Mary Beth Hurt, and Mandy Patinkin. The production received the following Tony Award nominations: Featured Actress in a Play (Hurt), Scenic Designer (David Mitchell), and Lighting Designer (Ian Calderon). Hamlet followed with Sam Waterston, Jane Alexander, Maureen Anderman, George Hearn, Larry Gates, and Patinkin. Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession was revived with Lynn Redgrave, Ruth Gordon, Edward Herrmann, and Milo O’Shea. Herrmann won a Tony Award (Featured Actor in a Play), and Redgrave was nominated for Best Actress in a Play. The Threepenny Opera was next with Raul Julia as Mack the Knife, plus Elizabeth Wilson and Blair Brown, performing a controversial new translation by Ralph Manheim and John Willett, replacing the familiar one by Marc Blitzstein. This production was highly successful, as was David Rabe’s powerful army play Streamers, which was nominated for a Best Play Tony Award.
In 1977 Papp presented a new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard by Jean-Claude van Itallie with Raul Julia, Meryl Streep, Irene Worth, Mary Beth Hurt, Max Wright, and Cathryn Damon. This was followed by a revival of Agamemnon by Aeschylus, as conceived by Andrei Serban and Elizabeth Swados, using fragments of the original Greek and Edith Hamilton’s translation. Both revivals were judged to be outstanding. Despite this record, Papp’s productions downtown at his theatre on Astor Place were judged to be superior to his uptown output, and he decided to withdraw from the Beaumont. Plagued by complaints about poor acoustics and its unwieldy thrust stage, the Beaumont remained closed for 18 months.
From 1979 to 1984 producer Richmond Crinkley was executive director of the Beaumont, which presented only one full season, in 1980-81, including an unsuccessful revival of Philip Barry’s celebrated high comedy The Philadelphia Story, starring Blythe Danner as Tracy Lord, Meg Mundy as her mother, Frank Converse as C. K. Dexter Haven, Edward Herrmann as Mike Connor, Mary Louise Wilson as Liz Imbrie, Douglas Watson as Seth Lord, and George Ede as the lecherous Uncle Willie. The play was lost in a gigantic set that resembled Pennsylvania Station, and the charm of the 1939 original with Katharine Hepburn was missing.
Crinkley next presented Macbeth, with Philip Anglim, Maureen Anderman, Dana Ivey, and Kelsey Grammer, for 61 performances. The third offering that season was an inferior comedy by Woody Allen called The Floating Light Bulb, with Danny Aiello, Beatrice Arthur, Jack Weston, and Brian Backer, who received a Featured Actor Tony Award for his performance. Jack Weston was nominated for a Leading Actor Tony Award. This memory play was compared unfavorably to The Glass Menagerie.
In 1983 a memorable event occurred at the Beaumont. The theatre was rented to producer Alexander H. Cohen for Peter Brook’s magnificent production of La Tragédie de Carmen, an 80-minute distillation of Bizet’s opera Carmen. This production was originally aimed for the New Amsterdam Roof but had to be switched to the Beaumont when the Roof was declared unsafe. The drama critics were jubilant at Brook’s dynamic staging of the condensed opera on a thrust stage, but the music critics weren’t. One of the fascinating aspects of the production was that the performance area was covered with dirt, like a bull ring. Not all the Bizet music was used, and three singers alternated in the lead roles. The work was subtitled A Full Length Musical in One Act. It was a triumph and thrilled playgoers for 187 performances. It received a Special Tony Award for its brilliance.
In 1985 management was reorganized once again, this time as the Lincoln Center Theater, and at last began to shed its aura of unfulfilled promise. The Beaumont, which had come to be considered a white elephant, gradually transformed into the home of hits under the wise stewardship of Gregory Mosher and Public Theater alumnus Bernard Gersten, and later Gersten and André Bishop. From 1985 to 1991 Mosher was director and Gersten was executive producer of LCT. In 1986 they produced Juggling and Cheap Theatrics, a variety revue devised by the incredible New Vaudeville troupe the Flying Karamazov Brothers. In April they came up with a real winner: a revival of The House of Blue Leaves by John Guare, which had been a 1971 Off-Broadway delight. The revival starred John Mahoney, Stockard Channing, Swoosie Kurtz, Christine Baranski, and Danny Aiello. The comedy, about bedlam in the New York borough of Queens when the Pope pays a visit, won the following Tony Awards: Best Featured Actor (Mahoney), Best Featured Actress (Kurtz), Best Play Director (Jerry Zaks), and Best Scenic Designer (Tony Walton). It also received the following Tony Award nominations: Best Featured Actress (Channing), Best Play, Best Costume Design (Ann Roth), and Best Lighting Design (Paul Gallo).
In November 1986 the Beaumont had another hit revival: the Hecht/MacArthur classic The Front Page with Richard Thomas, John Lithgow, and Bill McCutcheon. It received two Tony Award nominations: Best Revival and Best Scenic Designer (Tony Walton).
In 1987 the theatre presented Earle Hyman in Death and the King’s Horseman, a Nigerian drama by Wole Soyinka; The Regard of Flight and The Clown Bagatelles, entertainment by the superb mime Bill Irwin; and an antic version of The Comedy of Errors conceived by the Flying Karamazov Brothers and Robert Woodruff, which played for 148 performances.
On November 19, 1987, the Beaumont welcomed a jubilant revival of the 1934 Cole Porter musical Anything Goes. Patti LuPone had the famous Ethel Merman role of Reno Sweeney, Howard McGillin took the William Gaxton role, and Bill McCutcheon expertly acted the Victor Moore Public Enemy No. 13 part. The original Porter score was beefed up with interpolated numbers such as “Easy to Love” and “It’s De-Lovely,” and Tony Walton designed a deluxe shipboard set on which the show’s band was perched. The stunning revival ran for 804 performances and won the following Tony Awards: Best Featured Actor in a Musical (McCutcheon), Best Choreography (Michael Smuin), and Best Musical Revival. It also received these Tony nominations: Best Musical Actress (LuPone), Best Musical Actor (McGillin), Best Musical Featured Actor (Anthony Heald), Best Musical Director (Jerry Zaks), Best Scenic Designer and Best Costume Designer (both for Tony Walton), and Best Lighting Designer (Paul Gallo).
The last production of the 1980s was a revival of Paddy Chayefsky’s The Tenth Man with Phoebe Cates. This was followed by a play transferred from Off-Broadway called Some Americans Abroad by Richard Nelson, with Nathan Lane and Kate Burton. The play concerned a group of Anglophile American professors on a London theatre tour. In November 1990 another winner came to the Beaumont from Lincoln Center’s smaller theatre, the Newhouse. It was John Guare’s fascinating Six Degrees of Separation, based on a true-life incident in which an imposter passed himself off as the son of actor Sidney Poitier and was able to gain access to the apartments of rich Manhattanites. The play was stylishly directed by Jerry Zaks, who won a Tony Award, and was voted the Best Play of the year by the New York Drama Critics Circle. It also earned these Tony Award nominations: Best Actress (Stockard Channing), Best Actor (Courtney B. Vance), and Best Play. It had a healthy run of 485 performances.
Another John Guare drama arrived next, but it was only fair. Four Baboons Adoring the Sun was an odd play, which The New York Times called the most controversial of the season. Channing and James Naughton headed the cast.
André Bishop, who had successfully piloted Playwrights Horizons for many years, then succeeded Gregory Mosher in January 1992 and joined Bernard Gersten as artistic director of the Lincoln Center Theater. Over the next few years the Gersten/Bishop team was to elevate this theatre to its pinnacle of artistic achievement. In addition to choosing scripts astutely and forming strong bonds with some of the period’s top theatre talent, they also programmed the Beaumont with canny flexibility. They would announce a season at the Beaumont and would produce a series of limited runs of shows like King Lear or The Rivals, which were generally well received. But if a show proved to be a hit, like Contact (in 2000, 1,010 performances), The Light in the Piazza (2005, 504 performances) or South Pacific (2007, 996 performances), they would simply move the rest of the season elsewhere, booking commercial productions at houses like the Atkinson or Cort and leaving the hit to fill LCT coffers as long as it made money. Such hits allowed LCT to continue to produce fascinating noncommercial works like Juan Darién and The Coast of Utopia on Broadway, plus continue to program works like Dessa Rose, Hello Again, and Pride’s Crossing at the Off-Broadway Newhouse Theatre from de facto artists-in-residence like Susan Stroman, Ahrens and Flaherty, Michael John LaChiusa, and Wendy Wasserstein.
Another of LCT’s innovations was to book the Beaumont’s “dark” nights (Sunday and/or Monday, when the main production was not performing) with interesting solo shows or concerts by theatre stars. The first was Spalding Gray’s Monster in a Box (1991), a monologue about his long-aborning novel. Gray returned in 1993 and 1994 with engagements of his Gray’s Anatomy, about how an eye affliction literally changed his view of the world.
Over the next few years the Beaumont hosted special adjunct bookings of Gray’s It’s a Slippery Slope (1996) and Morning, Noon and Night (1999); Patti LuPone’s concert show Matters of the Heart (2000); Alan Alda’s portrait of Renaissance man Richard Feynman, "QED" (2001); Barbara Cook’s Mostly Sondheim (2002) and Barbara Cook’s Broadway! (2004); and Brian Stokes Mitchell’s Love/Life (2005); plus several onetime concerts, including a November 2002 reunion concert version of Anything Goes.
During the 1992-93 season on the mainstage, a musical version of the film My Favorite Year proved a failure, despite a score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. It was based on a film about a real-life incident. In 1954 Errol Flynn arrived in New York to do a guest stint on Sid Caesar’s "Your Show of Shows" and wound up wreaking havoc with his outrageous behavior. Although the musical didn’t work, it won a Tony Award for Andrea Martin as Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Other Tony nominees: Tim Curry (Best Actor in a Musical) and Lainie Kazan (Best Featured Actress in a Musical).
On November 29, 1993, a huge cast performed in a revival of Robert E. Sherwood’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Sam Waterston was praised for his performance as Lincoln, and Lizbeth Mackay played Mary Todd. The production received the following Tony Award nominations: Best Actor in a Play (Waterston), Best Play Director (Gerald Gutierrez), and Best Revival.
Jane Bowles’s pretentious drama In the Summer House was next, and it received mostly negative reviews. Dianne Wiest, Liev Schreiber, and Frances Conroy appeared in this misty fantasy, which was soon gone.
On March 24, 1994, London’s Royal National Theatre sent New York its hit revival of Carousel, the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. The cast included Audra Ann McDonald (who later dropped the “Ann”), Sally Murphy, and Michael Hayden. Bob Crowley’s sets were outstanding, as was Nicholas Hytner’s staging, especially the way the eponymous carousel assembled itself as if by magic in the opening scene. The voices of McDonald and the other singers were superlative, giving new grandeur to the haunting score. The musical won the following Tony Awards: Best Musical Revival, Best Featured Musical Actress (McDonald), Best Musical Director (Hytner), Best Scenic Designer (Crowley), and Best Choreographer (Sir Kenneth MacMillan). Carousel revolved for 322 performances.
On March 30, 1995, a play arrived that was a masterpiece to some (especially critics) and a colossal bore to others. It was Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, which had been an enormous success in London. The action in the play kept shifting from the present to 1809, which some found confusing. One critic wrote, “The night I saw it, large portions of the audience stood and cheered but others left looking wan and defeated. Stoppard’s intellectual plays are like caviar — you either love it or loathe it.” Arcadia won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. The cast included Billy Crudup, Jennifer Dundas, Lisa Banes, Victor Garber, Blair Brown, Robert Sean Leonard, and David Manis. It won no Tony Awards but was nominated in the following categories: Best Play, Best Scenic Designer (Mark Thompson), and Best Lighting Designer (Paul Pyant). The play ran for 173 performances.
David Hare, one of Britain’s most prolific playwrights, supplied the next Beaumont attraction, Racing Demon, which attacked the politics of the Church of England. Variety felt it was an “unsettling, deeply pessimistic play.” The cast included Josef Sommer, Michael Cumpsty, Brian Murray, and Kathleen Chalfant. It ran for 48 performances and received a Best Play Tony Award nomination.
November 24, 1996, brought an imaginative novelty to the Beaumont: Juan Darién, subtitled A Carnival Mass, written and directed by the distinguished artist Julie Taymor, with composer Elliot Goldenthal. Taymor also designed the brilliant puppets and masks, and some of the sets and costumes, that made this a stunning visual experience. Set in a South American jungle, this “music theatre” piece about a jaguar cub who transforms into a boy was praised more for its spectacular beauty than for its content.
Another revival of Hellman’s The Little Foxes opened at the Beaumont in April 1997. It starred Stockard Channing in the Tallulah Bankhead role. New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley pronounced the revival “miscast and misconceived.”
Chekhov’s Ivanov was revived in November 1997 with Kevin Kline, Jayne Atkinson, Hope Davis, and Robert Foxworth. It received mixed reviews, but Kline’s performance was praised. It ran for 51 performances. Eugene O’Neill’s comedy Ah, Wilderness! was given a loving revival in March 1998 with Craig T. Nelson, Leo Burmester, Sam Trammell, and Jean Thompson in lead roles. It garnered mostly favorable reviews and received two Tony Award nominations: Best Play Revival and Best Featured Actor in a play (Trammell).
An eagerly awaited musical in 1998 proved to be a letdown. Parade, a musical treatment of a very tragic real-life incident, turned out to be too grim for the musical stage. Co-conceived by Harold Prince, who directed it, the show had a book by Alfred Uhry and a score by Broadway first-timer Jason Robert Brown. The show recounted the harrowing lynching of the northern-born Jew Leo Frank, wrongly accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl in a pencil factory in Atlanta. This tragedy had been made into a superlative 1937 film, They Won’t Forget, as well as an acclaimed TV movie, "The Murder of Mary Phagan," but it did not work as a musical, despite the splendid performances of Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello and an excellent score by Brown, captured on a superb RCA Victor cast album. The musical received the following Tony Awards: Best Musical Book (Uhry) and Best Musical Score (Brown). It also received the following Tony nominations: Best Musical, Best Choreography (Patricia Birch), Best Musical Direction (Harold Prince), and Best Scenic Design (Ricardo Hernandez). Parade closed after 85 performances.
Next, Lincoln Center Theater coproduced a musical revue called It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues, as created by the Crossroads Theater Company of New Jersey. Music by various composers was used to trace the history of the blues. The show transferred to the Beaumont after a stint at the New Victory Theatre on Forty-second Street, and it was nominated for the 1999 Tony Award as Best Musical.
The last new Broadway musical of the 1900s, Marie Christine, opened at the Beaumont on December 2, 1999. It was an odd work, a musical based on Euripides’ Medea about a woman who murders her children rather than let her estranged husband take them from her. Michael John LaChiusa, who wrote the book and composed the score, set his version in New Orleans and Chicago. Audra McDonald gave a thrilling dramatic and singing performance as Marie Christine, the Medea character, who dabbled in voodoo. Anthony Crivello played the charismatic sailor for whose sake she killed her brother, abandoned her home and fortune, and took off for Chicago. The music was dissonant and the libretto disjointed. Critics and audiences found the show cold, depressing, unmoving, and devoid of humor. It received the following Tony Award nominations: Best Musical Book (LaChiusa), Best Orchestrations (Jonathan Tunick), Best Lighting Design (Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer), and Best Performance by the Lead Actress in a Musical (McDonald).
The Beaumont greeted 2000, however, with a great hit: Susan Stroman’s triptych of one-act dance plays, collectively titled Contact, starring Boyd Gaines, Karen Ziemba, and Deborah Yates (as the mysterious Woman in the Yellow Dress). The show prompted much debate over whether it fit the definition of a musical. It had just scraps of dialogue and no singing whatever. All dancing was done to prerecorded pop and classical music. Nevertheless, the production won the 2000 Tony Award as Best Musical and settled in at the Beaumont for a 1,010-performance run.
Modern audiences got a taste of the desperation people were suffering in the Great Depression with a December 19, 2002, revival of Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman’s Dinner at Eight, with a top-drawer cast featuring Christine Ebersole, Marian Seldes, John Dossett, James Rebhorn, and Emily Skinner. John Lee Beatty’s posh set (which won the Tony Award for Best Set Design of a Play) reflected the strained elegance of the characters, who are all putting up a false front of wealth while planning to hit each other up for jobs or money.
The 2003-4 season was given over to two major Shakespeare revivals. In the fall, Kevin Kline starred as Falstaff in a production that combined Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2. The consolidated Henry IV also featured Michael Hayden as Prince Hal and Ethan Hawke as Hotspur. The spring brought Christopher Plummer as a majestic yet pitiable title character in King Lear. Both Lincoln Center Theater productions were nominated for Tony Awards as Best Revival (Henry IV won), and both leading men were nominated for Tony Awards as Best Actor in a Play.
On July 22, 2004, Lincoln Center Theater presented an unusual project by some of the top musical talents of the period: The Frogs, Stephen Sondheim’s first (mostly) new Broadway musical since Passion ten years earlier. Sondheim had worked with his A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum collaborator Burt Shevelove on a “freely adapted” musical version of Aristophanes’ 405 B.C. comedy in 1974, when it got its world premiere in a swimming pool at Yale University. Nathan Lane, who had made a 2001 recording of the score, conceived an “even more freely adapted” full Broadway evening, complete with added Sondheim songs and an expanded book by none other than himself. In the story, the god Dionysus feels that the playwrights of Athens have become too complacent, so he travels with his slave Xanthias to the underworld to bring back a great poet of the past. In the musical, Dionysus (Lane) goes to fetch George Bernard Shaw and winds up coming back with Shakespeare. Lane and director/choreographer Susan Stroman sparked the interest of the 74-year-old Sondheim when they showed how the story could apply to an America then in the grip of a conservative ascendancy represented by President George W. Bush, who was up for reelection that fall.
The production, which opened July 22, 2004, and ran 92 performances, used virtually all the songs from the 1974 original, notably the hilarious opening number “Invocation and Instructions to the Audience” and the beautiful “Fear No More,” possibly the only Sondheim song for which the composer suffered someone else (Shakespeare) to write the lyrics. The score added new Sondheim songs including the funny “Dress Big” and the touching “Ariadne.” Besides Lane, the show featured Roger Bart (replacing Chris Kattan in previews) as Xanthias, Peter Bartlett as Pluto, Burke Moses as Herakles, and Michael Siberry as Shakespeare.
LCT chose its next production from the more recent past: Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th-century comedy of young (and not-so-young) romance, The Rivals, which opened December 16, 2004, with Dana Ivey as Mrs. Malaprop, Richard Easton as Sir Anthony Absolute, and Brian Murray as Sir Lucius O’Trigger. Directed by Mark Lamos, the production boasted sumptuous period costumes by Jess Goldstein, who won a 2005 Tony Award for his work.
The Beaumont was occupied for more than a year, starting April 18, 2005, with the beautiful and romantic musical The Light in the Piazza. Based on a novella of the same name, the musical tells the story of a young woman (Kelli O’Hara) and her mother (Victoria Clark) on a sightseeing trip to Florence, Italy, when a chance breeze sends the girl’s hat flying into the hands of the man who will change her life. The show had a lambent Tony-winning score by Adam Guettel (grandson of Richard Rodgers and son of Mary Rodgers) and a book by Craig Lucas, and it was directed with great delicacy by Bartlett Sher. It proved to be a favorite with LCT subscribers and won Tony Awards for Clark and Guettel, and in all the design categories.
The entire 2006-7 season was given over to Tom Stoppard’s three-part epic The Coast of Utopia, charting the rise and fall of a group of failed nineteenth-century Russian revolutionaries, who prepared the way for the brutal success of Trotsky and Lenin but who didn’t get to share in it, living out their lives in exile. Part one, Voyage, opened November 27, 2006. Part two, Shipwreck, opened December 21, 2006. Part three, Salvage, opened February 18, 2007, and then all three played in repertory through late May 2007. The sprawling production starred Brían F. O’Byrne, Martha Plimpton, Ethan Hawke, Billy Crudup, and Jennifer Ehle, representing a considerable commitment of time, money, and artistry by all concerned. The Tony committee rewarded their boldness with seven Tony Awards, including Best Play of 2007.
During the 2006-7 season Lincoln Center began to undergo a multiyear facelift, including a renovation of the plaza, plantings, and reflecting pool outside the Beaumont. For the next few seasons theatergoers had to thread their way down a long plywood passageway to get to the theatre’s entrance aboveground, or to access it through the Newhouse entrance from the underground parking garage. Management decorated the barriers with posters from some of the theatre’s past and current hits, and at holiday time the workers softened the harsh construction lights by having them blink cheerfully on and off.
Cymbeline, Shakespeare’s drama about a test of love in pre-Roman Britain, got its first Broadway revival since 1923 on December 2, 2007, starring John Cullum as Cymbeline, Michael Cerveris as Posthumus Leonatus, Phylicia Rashad as the Queen, and Martha Plimpton as Imogen. It played a limited run of 40 performances.
Starting on April 3, 2008, the rest of the decade at the Beaumont was occupied with a glorious revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific — unbelievably the first Broadway revival since its 1949 debut. Starring Kelli O’Hara as Nellie Forbush and Brazilian opera singer Paulo Szot as Emile de Becque, Bartlett Sher’s production was hailed as not only one of Lincoln Center Theater’s best revivals, but as one of the most sterling revivals of a musical ever. The production won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (Szot), Best Director (Sher), and all three technical design awards, Best Costumes, Sets, and Lighting. But no Tony was given for one of the most outstanding aspects of this production: its full 30-piece orchestra (rare in the age of synthesizers) conducted by Ted Sperling, with Robert Russell Bennett’s orchestrations reconstructed by researcher Bruce Pomahac.
When South Pacific closed after playing close to 1,000 performances, the next production at the Beaumont was John Guare's sprawling A Free Man of Color, featuring a cast of 33. Critics praised its acting, costumes and sets; the play itself did not fare as well.
The record of Bernard Gersten and André Bishop at the helm of Lincoln Center has been outstanding and has fulfilled many of the original hopes for an exemplary institutional theatre in Manhattan.