Charles Playhouse Collection, 1945-2003 | Boston Public Library Archival and Manuscript Finding Aid Database
This collection dates from 1945-2003 (bulk 1957-1995) and documents the history of the Charles Playhouse under the tenure of Frank Sugrue. From the beginning, the Charles Playhouse distinguished itself in the Boston theater scene and maintained this distinction throughout the years by providing many “firsts” to Boston audiences. In particular, this collection documents the beginnings and daily operations of the theater and its various onsite restaurants and clubs, as well as the premieres, notable plays, famous actors, and other cultural enrichments that it brought to the city.
In November 1958, the Charles Playhouse opened at 76 Warrenton Street with Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. With its mission to present serious theater, the Charles continued to expose theatergoers to the most important playwrights of the time and often staged controversial works. For example, Edward Bond's political parable Narrow Road to the Deep North had its national premiere at the Charles Playhouse in November 1969. One of the most influential productions was Vinnette Carroll and Micki Grant's protest musical Don’t Bother Me, I Can't Cope. This play, which examined the African-American experience, opened in June 1976 at a time when race relations in Boston were strained but became the Charles's longest running and highest grossing musical. Another notable production, Shear Madness is still playing at the Charles in 2012 and is the longest running non-musical play in American theater history.
The Charles Playhouse also launched the careers of several well-known actors. Olympia Dukakis, a founding member of the Actor's Company (which became the Charles), appeared in every production from 1957-1959. Jane Alexander (1964) and Jill Clayburgh (1967) began their professional careers there, as members of the Charles's Resident Acting Company. Al Pacino starred in the 1967 productions of America Hurrah and Awake and Sing. He returned to the Charles, as both a director and actor, for 1970s performances of Rats and The Indian Wants the Bronx, as well as Arturo Ui.
Important “firsts” that the Charles brought to Boston are Musical Theatre for Children and the comedy club. Musical Theatre for Children debuted during the 1964-65 Season and ran continuously for seven years. In March 1974, the Charles opened Boston's first comedy club, The Cabaret, which featured Jay Leno. Additionally, the Charles hosted many Boston premieres, including Jean Anouilh's drama Poor Bitos, which opened in November 1965 and provided Bostonians with both high quality, modern theater and an introduction to well-known Canadian actor Eric House.
Along with its notable accomplishments, this collection also documents the beginnings and daily operations of the theatre and its various onsite restaurants and clubs from 1958-1995. This includes the organizational and policy changes that the Charles underwent – moving from a theater with a resident acting company to one who used visiting performers to, finally, becoming a booking house. The planning and implementation of capital development plans, benefits and subscription campaigns are also chronicled as are staff positions and operating procedures. Particularly prevalent are records of the many bars, restaurants and clubs which took up residence at the Charles through the years. Among them are The Playhouse Restaurant, the Comedy Connection, the Lunch Club and Late Club, and Roberta's ShowBiz Cafe.
Of special note are the Charles's 10th and 30th Anniversary celebrations. For the 10th Anniversary (1966-67), the Charles refurbished the Playhouse interior and original company members, namely Olympia Dukakis and Edward Zang, returned to the stage for an ambitious season which featured a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet. In November 1988, the Charles Playhouse celebrated the 30th Anniversary with commemorative events, including a Gala Ball with guest of honor Jane Alexander, a special encore performance of the repeat hit Jacques Brel.
In addition, this collection conveys The Charles Playhouse's role in Boston's Theatre District as well as in national theatre organizations. The Charles participated in many of Boston's cultural events designed to expose the public to the arts, including the Boston Arts Festival (1959, 1963), WinterFest (1966-67) and Summerthing (1968-70). Through membership in civic organizations, such as the Theatre District Association, and involvement with numerous city task forces, including the Mayor's Task Force on Urban Theatres, the Charles and its management were an influential part of the Theatre District's redevelopment from the late 1970s-1980s. For example, the Charles participated in the planning process with the Boston Redevelopment Authority and also, for a time, was charged with redevelopment of one of the empty land parcels (C2).
The collection contains playbills, scripts, stage plans and set designs, cast lists, contracts, financial statements, correspondence, blueprints, renovation plans, and scrapbooks. Photographs, posters, press releases, artwork, advertisements and news clippings are also included.
Series 1: Administrative Records, 1958-1993
Series 2: Legal and Financial, 1957-1995
Series 3: Correspondence, 1947-2003
Series 4: Physical Plant, 1961-1994
Series 5: Production Material, 1957-1995
Series 6: Publicity, 1957-2003
Series 7: Photographic Images, 1957-1995
Series 8: Audio-Visual Material and Memorabilia, 1945-1994
Series 9: Related Material, 1958-2003
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