Welcome to BROADWAY RECALL, a bi-monthly column where BroadwayWorld.com's Chief Theatre Critic, Michael Dale, delves into the archives and explores the stories behind the well-known and the not so well-known videos and photographs of Broadway's past. Look for BROADWAY RECALL every other Saturday.
The curse of Shakespeare’s Scottish play – Oh, heck, let’s just call it Macbeth! – has a special meaning in New York, where in 1849, competing productions of the tragedy caused the infamous Astor Place Riot.
Simmering conflicts between homegrown American talent like actor Edwin Forrest and cultural imports like British stage star William Charles Macready hit a boiling point when Macready’s production of Macbeth at the Astor Place Theatre conflicted with Forrest’s mounting just a few blocks away at the Broadway Theater. Forrest supporters bought ticket to Macready’s opening night and threw rotten food and garbage onto the stage. Though the play continued, the British star considered leaving town until he was convinced to carry on with his scheduled performances, but police had to be brought in when thousands of protesters showed up intending to further disrupt the production and burn down the theatre.
The cultural exchange between Americans and the British Empire is a bit more civilized these days, perhaps exemplified by the fact that New York currently hosts two solo performances of Macbeth, one by Scottish theatre star Alan Cumming and another by American Tom Gualtieri, and the only bloodshed involved takes place on stage.
Cumming’s National Theatre of Scotland production, which recently opened a brief run at the Lincoln Center Festival, has the actor performing each role as a patient in a psychiatric ward.
Tom Gualtieri’s That Play: a Solo Macbeth, which he co-authored with director Heather Hill, premiered at the 2003 Midtown InterNational Theatre Festival and has been enjoying a current run at Stage Left Studio since April.
The last time Macbeth was performed on Broadway, Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood led a West End production that can to Manhattan in 2008 after a stint at BAM. It was eventually filmed for television.
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