An American Theatre (deluxe box edition) The Story of Westport Country Playhouse, 1931-2005 Richard Somerset-Ward

Publication date:
11 Jun 2005
Yale University Press
304 pages: 279 x 229mm
250 b-w illus.


For 75 years, Westport Country Playhouse has faithfully reflected the story of American theatre. Founded by Lawrence and Armina Langner in 1931, it has never been more than a summer stock theatre, yet it has an astonishing pedigree. George Bernard Shaw and Noel Coward gave world premieres there; so did Leonard Gershe and A. R. Gurney in more recent times. Playwrights Eugene O'Neill and S. N. Behrman were closely linked to it, and talents as diverse as Jane Wyatt, Gene Kelly, Stephen Sondheim, and Liza Minnelli performed there early in their careers. The aristocracy of the acting profession and the giants of Hollywood appeared — Ethel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Paul Robeson, Groucho Marx, Tyrone Power, Olivia de Havilland. And the Playhouse can claim a role in the creation of two of the American theatre's greatest musicals — Oklahoma! and My Fair Lady.

This fascinating and lavishly illustrated book traces the entire story of Westport Country Playhouse from its beginnings in the midst of the Depression to its 75th anniversary renovations and rejuvenation. Filled with colorful characters and lively anecdotes, it is a story that will appeal to everyone who has ever been enchanted by the magic of a live theatre performance.

Richard Somerset-Ward is senior fellow of the Benton Foundation, Washington, D.C., and former director of the BBC in the United States.

"In the same way that independent films have produced some of Hollywood's most acclaimed directors and stars, the Westport Country Playhouse has been instrumental in launching the careers of some of Broadway's greatest playwrights and actors. This book is a must read, not only for those interested in the history of the American stage, but for all fans of live theatre."
--Harvey Weinstein

"This delightful book is more than a trip to the suburbs of the theatre world. It's a fascinating anecdotal history of one of the longest running, most important theatres in America. I roared at some of the backstage stories -- plus ca change . . ."
--Meryl Streep