AFTER 50 YEARS, NEW HAVEN’S THEATRICAL GRAND DAME: Shubert Gives Preview of Broadway — March 13, 1964

“BENJAMIN WITKEN, manager of the Shubert Theater for 23 years, claims emphatically that the small first-run theaters are here to stay. Mr. Witken booked the world premieres of ‘South Pacific’ and ‘My Fair Lady.'”

“What do Ethel Merman, Maurice Evans, Boris Karloff, Ethel Barrymore, Mary Martin, Alec Guiness, Eddie Cantor, Marlon Brando, and Dante the Magician have in common? Answer: all of them have played at New Haven’s Shubert Theater.

After half a century of showmanship the Shubert still provides the nation’s largest stock of pre-Broadway shows. This year alone New Havenites and Yale students could have seen at least three hits — ‘Barefoot in the Park,’ ‘Dylan,’ and ‘Any Wednesday.’ And for the same money, they could have seen at least two flops — ‘Bicycle Ride to Nevada,’ and ‘A Rainy Day in Newark.’

Currently at the Shubert is ‘Pajama Tops,’ a review with June Wilkinson. The show is a post-Broadway engagement. The road company production of ‘A Man for All Seasons’ arrives here March 16.

‘Absolutely Not’

Benjamin Witken, manager of the Shubert for 23 years, is a short man with a thin pair of tortoise-shell glasses. He has booked the world premieres of ‘South Pacific,’ ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ ‘Arsenic and Old Lace,’ and ‘My Fair Lady’ for the theater. Asked if he thought the Shubert and the Broadway theaters that spawn try-outs were in decline, he folded his glasses smiled and said, ‘No. Absolutely not.’

Mr. Witken seems to be right. ‘Dylan,’ the Alec Guiness show at the Shubert last December, set a house record by making $64,000. ‘High Spirits,’ the musical version of Noel Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit,’ which also had its American premiere in New Haven, was SRO for most of its performances.

surprisingly enough, the sickest shows at the box office have been the National Repertory Company’s productions. Mr. Witken grinned when asked if the new Lincoln Square Repertory Company and others like it would open a new era in American theater. ‘It takes money,’ he said and added that the repertory theaters don’t have it.

Fifty-Year Habits

Standing in the wings of a dark stage looking out on a lone wooden chair, the manager explained that the Shubert brothers, the last of whom died in December, sold their interests in the theater in 1941. But the change in management brought no change in the theater’s 50-year-old habits. Shows that try out here still run three to five days, still bring all their props and scenery with them, and still house their casts at the Taft.

The only equipment the Shubert provides for its shows is a group of stage hands, a light board, and 80 nearly sandbagged drop-scene lines.

Yale has always taken active interest in New Haven’s theaters an example is the Hyperion riot. The Hyperion used to stand where the Shubert does today. [Editorial note: The Hyperion was actually across the street, opposite the Shubert, midblock (behind the Roger Sherman Theatre). In 1964, the former Hyperion theatre had been renamed Loew’s College, and was still in operation.]

On a football weekend in 1911 it presented Mlle. Gaby Desleys, the mistress of the King of Portugal, in a show the New Haven police found so scandalous they stopped it in mid-performance.

The Yale men and their dates, all in formal attire, jeered and stamped their feet. The management turned fire hoses on them, ruining the girls’ gowns. The Elis tore down the curtain and pulled up the seats. The police arrived swinging billy-clubs.

Hyperion’s Doom

The outcome of the fight is in some doubt, but three years later a large portion of the Yale community was present at the dedication of the Shubert where the old Hyperion had stood. To this day Yale students shell out from $2 to $4.80 to see the Shubert’s shows.

Even Yale Daily News reviewers pay to see Shubert plays. This policy stems from the charge that reviews in the news frequently pan shows that later become Broadway smashes.

Picking hit shows out-of-town is as much of a roulette game for producers and critics as for Shubert-goers. Mr. Witken confessed that the success on Broadway of ‘Any Wednesday’ was a miracle, considering mediocre reviews here, a last-minute switch of cast, and a weak second act.”
-Excerpt and images courtesy of Yale University, The Yale Daily News, Yale Daily News Historical Archive, March 13, 1964

SHUBERT FARCE: Blonde Bombshell Hits New Haven

“British star June Wilkinson, who has been convulsing Shubert Theater audiences all week, has made a big impression at Yale as well.

In fact, Miss Wilkinson, currently performing in the French farce ‘Pajama Tops,’ received an invitation from DKE for a fraternity dance tomorrow night. She thanked DKE for the invitation, but expressed regret at being unable to attend their first annual Dignitaries Ball.

‘The play’s on tour,’ she explained, ‘and I’m afraid I’ll have to leave right after Saturday’s show. Next time I’m in town, though, I’ll make sure to pay all of you a visit.’

Long a favorite with Yale men Miss Wilkinson has been chosen ‘Playboy’s favorite Playmate’ due to five widely acclaimed appearances in that publication. She has also endeared herself to cinema fans the world over with performances in ‘Twist All Night,’ ‘Career Girl,’ and other cinema classics.

Far Cry from Sex Symbol

Relaxing in her Shubert dressing room after Wednesday night’s show, Miss Wilkinson seemed a far cry from the stereotyped ‘international sex symbol.’ In a soft voice, tinged with a slight British accent; she discussed her visit to New Haven.

‘I’ve never really seen Yale,’ she admitted, ‘except for a few of the buildings near the theater. Actually, the only other time I’ve come to New Haven was on a promotion stunt for ‘Macumba Love,’ one of my films.’

She went on to describe ‘Pajama Tops’ and her current stage tour. ‘I’ve been with the group now for about a year and a half, with time off now and then for work on films. We’re all terribly pleased with the response the show has been getting everywhere we’ve played.’

The Sultry Mistress

‘Pajama Tops,’ a delightfully absurd bedroom farce, has drawn full houses all week long at the Shubert, As Babette Latouche, the sultry mistress of a well-to-do French salesman, Miss Wilkinson leads a cast of seven through a racy, fast-paced routine.

While the amused theater crowd filed out onto College Street, Miss Wilkinson removed her makeup and prepared to return to New York. ‘I’ve been commuting from New York every day,’ she explained, ‘so I really haven’t had a chance to see very much of Yale.’

While ‘Pajama Tops’ marks her first appearance on a New Haven stage, the British starlet has a number of dramatic appearances to her credit. At the age of three, she attended a professional theatrical school, and when only fifteen, she danced in the Donna Maresca Ballet Company production of ‘Swan Lake.’

Miss Wilkinson launched a TV career on the BBC show, ‘Pleasure Boat,’ a year later. Soon afterward, she arrived in the US and began her successful appearances in Playboy. Late last year she completed work on her latest film, ‘La Rabia,’ which was filmed in Barcelona, Spain.”
-Excerpt and images courtesy of Yale University, The Yale Daily News, Yale Daily News Historical Archive, March 13, 1964

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