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The world’s most famous vaudeville house from 1913 until the 1930’s—when talking pictures killed vaudeville—the Palace was bought by the Nederlanders in 1965, beautifully renovated and became a legit theatre in 1966 with the gala opening of Sweet Charity, the hit musical by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, starring Gwen Verdon, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse (Tony Award).
The most recent productions were the long-running Beauty and the Beast; and the multi-Tony Award-winning musical The Will Rogers Follies by Comden/ Green and Cy Coleman, starring Keith Carradine, directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune (awarded two Tonys for his work). Two other enormous hits of the 1980’s were the Jerry Herman/ Harvey Fierstein musical La Cage aux Folles, starring George Hearn and Gene Barry, which won six Tony Awards and ran for 1,761 performances, this theatre’s longest-running show; and the hit musical Woman of the Year, which won Tony Awards for Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Cooper, Kander and Ebb (score) and Peter Stone (book).
During the 1970’s such superstars as Bette Midler, Josephine Baker, Shirley MacLaine and Diana Ross made spectacular personal appearances. Legitimate attractions during this period included Christopher Plummer (Tony Award) in the musical Cyrano; Carol Channing in a revised version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes called Lorelei; Richard Kiley in a return engagement of Man of La Mancha; Joel Grey in Jerry Herman’s The Grand Tour based on the play Jacobowsky and the Colonel; a rousing revival of Oklahoma!; John Carradine in a spectacular production of Frankenstein; and Lauren Bacall, Len Cariou, Penny Fuller, Bonnie Franklin and Lee Roy Reams in the mega-hit Applause, which won Tonys for Bacall, Betty Comden and Adolph Green (book), Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (score) and Ron Field (director and choreographer). The musical flourished here for 18 months.
During the 1960’s Judy Garland returned in triumph to this theatre in a vaudeville show called At Home at the Palace, and The New York Times called her “one of the most remarkable personalities of the contemporary entertainment field.” On the bill with her were tap dancer John Bubbles, comic Jackie Vernon, juggler Francis Brunn and Ms. Garland’s young children, Lorna and Joey Luft. Later that year, Eddie Fisher and Buddy Hackett played the Palace.
In 1967 Don Ameche and Carol Bruce, aided by three talented young girls—Alice Playten, Neva Small and Robin Wilson—appeared in Henry, Sweet Henry, a musical based on the film The World of Henry Orient, and this production was followed by The Grand Music Hall of Israel.
In April 1968 Joel Grey played the great George M. Cohan in the musical George M! by Michael Stewart, John and Fran Pascal, with the timeless songs of Cohan and Bernadette Peters as Josie Cohan, his sister. It was ironic that Cohan was one of the few great entertainers who never played the Palace in its vaudeville heyday, but Joel Grey’s impersonation lasted for 433 performances here.
Space limitations prevent us from mentioning all the productions which have played this theatre.
Written by Louis Botto