Mixing History and the Present in the Theatre

July 2, 2018

 Above: The marquee of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where Kinky Boots plays


I started noticing a trend while I was reading some reviews for various shows. Often, if the show is playing a theatre named after someone, the critic will comment on that, wondering how that person would feel knowing that something not good (in the critic's opinion) is playing in the theater that bears the famous person's name.


This left quite the sour taste in my mouth. Aren't theaters named after people because they accomplished a great deal in their lives? Maybe they broke down barriers or wrote something unconventional. Often, these people stood for progress and development in the theatre and elsewhere. 


So what is the point of asking what John Golden might think of the shows that have come into the Golden theatre? Who needs to know what Al Hirschfeld thinks of Kinky Boots? Why wonder what August Wilson's opinion of Mean Girls or Groundhog Day is? That is almost saying that shows to play these theatres should be in line with what the playwright liked or what a critic may have reviewed positively - something that is impossible to judge. 


Just because something on Broadway may not be what August Wilson or Edwin Booth would have written or liked, doesn't mean it shouldn't be playing, or that we should ask what they would have thought. It means that Broadway is constantly evolving and changing, and while some people may not like it, it is just as deserving to be playing as the shows people love. 


The people who have their names on theatres are part of a long history of theatre in New York. They greatly contributed to help the Broadway and New York theatre community be where it is today. But that does not change that in the present, theatre is different than it has been, which is not a bad thing. 

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