An American Theatre


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The Story of Westport Country Playhouse, 1931-2005

Richard Somerset-Ward; With a foreword by Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman

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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 Noël 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 County 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

“If you are at all interested in the theatre, and in the best of American culture, this book is a must.”--Martin Scorsese

“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 ça change…”—Meryl Streep

“[This] account offers a happy balance of history, anecdote, and interview and is illustrated by a generous photographic record. . . . The list of playwrights and actors who populate these pages reads like a who’s who of Broadway and Hollywood, underscoring this theater’s unique place in American history. Highly recommended for all theater collections.”—Library Journal

"Richard Somerset-Ward has compiled everything anyone might want to know (and perhaps more) about the ups and downs of Westport Country Playhouse. The lavishly illustrated volume shoehorns the playhouse's 75-year history into a  metaphor for the ups and downs of professional theater in the 20-th century. . . . An American Theatre is a revealing read. Through financial health or illness, its cast of characters were optimists whose faith in art and audiences never wavered."—David A. Rosenberg, The Hour



"Institutions such as the Westport Country Playhouse are rare these days, and it's good to have a comprehensive history of this very important one."—Theodore S. Chapin, Wilson Quarterly

ISBN: 9780300106480
Publication Date: June 11, 2005
304 pages, 9 x 11
250 b/w illus.

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Richard Somerset-Ward; With a foreword by Joanne Woodward a

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