I’d like to see America but I’m afraid to risk it. As soon as I got over Mr. Frohman might request me to sit in a box at the performance of one of my plays.

Sir Arthur Wing Pinero

Daniel Frohman

New York, New York and the Shubert Archive. This is what Kathleen introduced me to on Thursday afternoon. It’s tucked up right at the top of the Lyceum Theatre on West 45th Street, in what had been the apartment of the theatre’s producer-manager Daniel Frohman. The Lyceum is Broadway’s oldest continually operating legitimate theatre and is currently on a waiting list for major renovation. The ‘old smell’ was apparent from the moment we stepped from the hot sidewalk inside the grand lobby.

Lyceum lobby. Photo by EP

Lyceum auditorium. Photo by EP

There are various original furnishings in Frohman’s converted eyrie: his desk which you can just glimpse below (and at which Kathleen and I sat to do our research); a marble plant stand with a faint view of New York skyscrapers behind it; and two original Tiffany panels, imported from the Belasco Theatre, which lend a rather splendid period air.

Photos by EP

There is also a little cubbyhole built into the wainscott, which, when opened, affords a view right down from the top of the gods onto the stage. Legend has it that, when his actress wife, Margaret Illington, was in a show, Frohman had a habit of waving a white handkerchief from the cubbyhole to signal that she was overacting. But it was a singular view of West Hampstead we had really gone to see.

In 1919, the long-running West End musical The Boy transferred to the Shubert Theatre in New York under the title Good Morning, Judge. The show was based on Pinero’s play The Magistrate and transposes the action of the first act and final scene from Bloomsbury to an affluent middle-class home in West Hampstead. Quite an extraordinary view of the suburb we know so well, even in London, but from this particular vantage point … almost surreal.

In a programme for the play, which the Archive holds, we spotted an extraordinary advertisement for summer furs. I can tell you that the heat and humidity of the current Manhattan summer would certainly not induce me to wear an elegant seasonal fur or even a light vest under my shirt. When one thinks of all the corsets and heavy underclothes people endured in the early years of the last century! They must have been tough as old boots those New Yorkers before the age of air-conditioning and more forgiving undergarments.

Tomorrow’s matinee is our last in New York but I leave you for now with three very contemporary views of this wonderful town.

Photos by EP
  • AuntieNan

    Thank you so much for your extraordinary performance, and for the creation of the piece with Paul Hunter and Kathleen Hunter. I don't remember when anything moved me so much — in equal measure of tears and barely suppressible laughter throughout! I particularly loved all the movement, something I have come to associate with you as an actor — the learning to walk scene, the chair that would not stay put, the quick sketches that became performers in the drama, and the amazing interweaving of your view of life and that of .shakespeare as he sees it through the eyes of Lear. I shall be thinking of your show, and you and Mr. Hunter's quicksilver partnership, for a long time.
    Nancy Nichols

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