Title: The Repertoire Follies
Author: Randy Gener
Publisher: American Theatre Magazine
Date: February 2009
"... Another souvenir book, timed for a bicentennial anniversary, Walnut Street Theatre neatly assembles black-and-white photos of prominent people and events from an impressive 200-year history that has validated the Walnut as America's oldest theatre and Pennsylvania's state theatre. Check out the two-page spread reserved for the 19thcentury actor Edmund Kean, kneeling and with a sword at his side. The curtain call, now a tradition in every theatre (helpfully explain authors Bernard Havard and Mark D. Sylvester, the Philadelphia-based troupe's producing artistic director and managing director, respectively), "started at the Walnut" with Kean's post-play appearances in Othello, Merchant of Venice and Richard III.
Several pages later, there's a triptych of the actor sons of Junius Brutus Booth--one of whom, Edwin, purchased the Walnut in 1863, two years before another son, John Wilkes, assassinated Lincoln at the Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. And how about those other famous actors who have appeared on stage or made their debuts at the Walnut--Ethel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Canada Lee, Edward G. Robinson, George C. Scott, Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, and Groucho Marx, who, in 1923, stopped the show to tell the audience that President Warren G. Harding had died?
Havard and Sylvester's book teems with tidbits and trivia. "In 1837, the Walnut was the first theatre to install gas footlights, and in 1855, the Walnut became the first theatre to install air-conditioning. The first copyright law protecting American plays had its roots at the Walnut." Later, "To this day, the Walnut continues to operate the original grid, rope, pulley and sandbag system that was in use nearly two centuries ago." (Except that instead of hemp ropes, the Walnut now uses nylon ropes that do not stretch over time.)
Culled from the Walnut's archives, the Philadelphia library's theatre collection, the Library of Congress and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, this photo album marches through chronological time within the rigid template that Arcadia Publishing uses to produce its portfolio of series on Images of America, Images of Rail and Corporate History. This timeline approach constitutes a brand of its own--no wonder the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, another TCG member theatre with a rich and long back-story, plans to work with Arcadia to publish a similar photographic project in 2010, timed for the Ashland company's 75th anniversary season..."
(Excerpt taken from The Repertoire Follies, American Theatre Magazine, February 2009)