The Road from
Dixie to Broadway
By Joyce Dixon
On Broadway this week you will find the stage productions
of Aida and Jekyll & Hyde.
On Off-Broadway this week you will find the stage productions of A
Lesson Before Dying and Dinner with Friends.
What do each of these productions have in common?
Each originated in a southern regional theatre.
The American theatre flourished after World War I as the
Little Theatre movement in England and Ireland crossed the Atlantic
attracting southern writers to try their hands at playwrighting.
The first successful southern playwright was Paul Green
(1894-1981), whose folk play In Abraham’s Bosom: The Biography of a
Negro (1926) was praised by New York critics and was awarded a Pulitzer
Prize. However his Broadway
success did not continue through his next projects, so Green returned to
North Carolina at the time an outdoor theatre was to be established on
Roanoke Island. Green wrote the
play The Lost Colony, which has had a continuous run since 1937,
except for the four years during World War II.
The success of The Lost Colony created the movement of outdoor
theatres at historical sites throughout the South.
New Orleans native Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) created
strong melodramas for Broadway. Those
many of her works reflected on issues connected to World War II and
politics, her southern plays are best remembered.
Currently a revival of The Little Foxes is on Broadway.
The play depicts greed in a 1900 Alabama family. She
wrote a prequel to Foxes called Another Part of the Forest,
but it failed to reach an audience. Hellman
wrote two other plays set on the Gulf coast, The Autumn Garden and Toys
in the Attic.
The southern playwright who was most productive on Broadway
and focused primarily on southern settings was Tennessee Williams
(1911-1983). He captured the
eccentric nature of the South in strong plays about relationships.
Williams’ works have received numerous honors and awards.
His catalog of plays include: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The
Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Baby Doll, Summer
and Smoke, Sweet Bird of Youth, and the 1999 Tony Award Best Play
nominee Not About Nightingales.
The southern voice is still strong in contemporary
playwrights. Atlanta’s Alfred
Uhry has taken the Broadway audience with Driving Miss Daisy, Parade
and The Last Night of Ballyhoo.
Prolific and successful writer of drama for theatre, movies, and
television, Horton Foote's most recent contribution to stage was The Young Man from Atlanta.
Beth Henley carried Miss Firecracker and Crimes of
the Heart to Broadway.
Southern regional theatres continue to give playwrights to
chance to make it to the New York stage.
The Alley Theatre
Founded in 1947 by high school teacher Nina Vance, Houston’s Alley Theatre today is one of the leading regional theatres sending productions to Broadway. In 1999, two Alley productions debuted on Broadway – Not About Nightingales (Tony Award Nomination, Best Play) and The Civil War (Tony Award Nomination, Best Musical). Alley’s first fully-produced new musical Jekyll & Hyde is currently running on Broadway. With the 2001 production of Horton Foote’s The Carpetbagg Children, the Alley maybe preparing for a future run on a New York stage. In 1996, the Alley was awarded the Special Tony for Outstanding Regional Theatre.
Actors Theatre of Louisville
in 1964, the Actors Theatre of Louisville presents nearly 600 performances
of about 30 productions each year. Designated
at the State Theatre of Kentucky, it also claims a strong theatre community.
In 1976, Actors Theatre of Louisville started the Humana Festival of
New American Plays. Among the
noted winners that made the journey to Broadway are: The Gin Game (D.L.
Coburn), Crimes of the Heart (Beth Henley) and the current
Off-Broadway production Dinner with Friends (Donald Margulies). Margulies’ Dinner was also awarded the 2000 Pulitzer
Prize for Drama.
in 1968, Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre made its mark in the theatre community
in the late 1970’s with the world premiere production of Tennessee
William’s A Tiger’s Tale. In
the 1980’s, the world premiere production of Sandra Deer’s Southern
gothic comedy, So Long on Lonely Street, opened on Broadway the next
year. Atlanta playwright Alfred
Uhry has had much success there and on Broadway with his plays – Driving
Miss Daisy, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and Parade. In 1998, Alliance celebrated its 30th anniversary
with the world premiere of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Elaborate Lives:
The Legend of Aida. As part
of the 2000 Broadway season, Aida received the 2000 Tony Awards for
Lead Actress in a Musical (Heather Headley), Lighting Design, and Scenic
Design. Elton John and Tim Rice
received the Tony for Best Original Score.
Alabama Shakespeare Festival
Alabama Shakespeare Festival moved from Anniston to its modern facilities in
Montgomery in 1985 and operates year-round with more than 400 performances
each year. In 1991, Artistic
Director Kent Thompson developed the Southern
Writers’ Project. Past
SWP productions include: an adaptation of Lee Smith’s novel, Fair and
Tender Ladies; Barbara Lebow’s play Lurleen, based on
Alabama’s only female governor Lurleen Wallace; and Horton Foote’s Vernon
Early about a 1950’s small town Texas doctor. Another SWP production, an adaptation of Ernest J. Gaines’s A
Lesson Before Dying opens on Off-Broadway at the Signature Theatre this
Through regional playwright events like the Southern Writers' Project, regional playwright festivals, and theatre sponsored contests, the southern voice will remain strong on stage.
Just look at the southern offerings for this season.
The History of Southern Drama, by Charles S. Watson. University Press of Kentucky, 1997.
Tennessee Williams, Plays 1937-1955 (Library of America), by Tennessee Williams, edited by Mel Gussow and Kenneth Holdich. Library of America, 2000.
An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir, by Lillian Hellman. Little Brown & Co., 1999.
Horton Foote: Getting Frankie Married and Afterwards and Other Plays (Contemporary Playwrights Series), by Horton Foote. Smith & Kraus, 1999.
Beth Henley Collected Works (Contemporary Playwrights Series), by Beth Henley. Smith & Kraus, 2000.
Flying West and Other Plays, by Pearl Cleage. Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, 1999.
A Paul Green Reader (Chapel Hill Books), by Paul Green. University of North Carolina, 1998.
Humana Festival 2000: The Complete Plays, edited by Bigelow Michael Dixon and Amy Wegener. Smith & Kraus, 2000.
© 2000, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved