What do musicals like Hamilton, Fun Home, Hair, and A Chorus Line have in common? Nothing, right? Far from it, actually. They’re all considered to be among the greatest theatrical works of our time, and they all originated at The Public Theatre in New York.
Now known as the ultimate Off-Broadway hub for new, upcoming experimental works, The Public Theatre first opened in 1967, boasting the world-premiere of Hair, a rock musical known for its controversial themes rooted in the hippie counterculture of the 60s. After its run at The Public, Hair had a successful Broadway transfer and went on to be a cultural icon internationally as well as domestically; it was Tony and Grammy nominated in 1969. This allowed The Public to continue to grow as they cemented themselves to being committed to “embracing the complexities of contemporary society and nurturing both artists and audiences” – as its founder Joseph Papp wanted.
The next production housed at The Public that proved to be as culturally impactful as Hair came in 1975 – A Chorus Line. The show popularized concept musicals as it explored the complexities of seventeen performers audition for a Broadway show. Similar to Hair, A Chorus Line transferred to Broadway not long after its run at The Public and soon exploded in popularity and was showered with many accolades. It became the fifth musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and spawned many international productions across three decades. Without the borrowed $1.6 million from The Public to produce the show, A Chorus Line would mostly certainly not be the quintessential musical we know it as today.
More recently, The Public has produced two back-to-back incredibly successful Tony winners: Fun Home and Hamilton. After The Public, both shows went on to became immediate successes. As mentioned in my Fun Home review, it broke ground in its representation of the LGBT community. In 2016, Hamilton became the ninth musical in history to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and has become a nation wide success in a short amount of time.
It’s no secret that most impactful Broadway shows start Off-Broadway – just take a look at shows like Rent and Next to Normal – but history has shown that The Public Theatre is New York’s leader in bringing new, different, and innovative works to life. So if you happen to come across a show you think is the next huge sensation, chances are it came from The Public.
Have you been to The Public Theatre? What’s your favorite work that’s emerged from The Public? Let me know in the comments!