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The Greenwich Village Follies

Song from the original Greenwich Village Follies, courtesy NYPL

October has arrived, which means it’s time for another round of the Greenwich Village Follies, playing at The Duplex every Sunday this month beginning at 6:30pm. Make sure to stop by for a musical jaunt through the history of our favorite neighborhood!

Now, it’s no coincidence that the word “follies” is evocative of yesteryear. The modern version of the Greenwich Village Follies, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Source, is actually a spin-off of a series of the same name that began almost 100 years ago right across the street from The Duplex, in a long-lost performance space known as the Greenwich Village Theatre.

The Greenwich Village Theatre in 1929

The 500-seat Greenwich Village Theatre was located across from Sheridan Square on the west side of Seventh Avenue South between Christopher & West 4th Streets. Built by architect Herman Lee Meader (a favorite of ours) for the Greenwich Village Players, the theatre opened in 1917. The original Greenwich Village Follies premiered here two years later.

Sadly, the theatre enjoyed only a brief 13-year lifespan; demolished in 1930, it was replaced a year later with the two-story taxpayer that occupies the site today (the Great Depression likely played a role in derailing the original plans to replace the theatre with a 19-story apartment house).

The site is 1933, after the theatre had been replaced
The site today

But the theatre’s legacy lives on in the Greenwich Village Follies, which received so much critical acclaim when it premiered here in 1919 that it was reproduced the following year. The show was so beloved that is was transferred to Broadway, where it enjoyed successful annual revivals at the Shubert Theater throughout the 1920s and 30s. Ironically, the show itself outlived its birthplace.

GVSHP works hard to preserve our historic theatres, many of which (including the Provincetown Playhouse, Circle in the Square, and the Sullivan Street Playhouse) have been lost in recent years. Do you have a favorite Village theatre that you hope will never disappear? Please give it a plug in our comments!

Charles Le Maire costume designs for the Greenwich Village follies (1925 and 1926), courtesy NYPL

4 responses to “The Greenwich Village Follies

  1. There’s a great history of the Greenwich Village Theater and the Greenwich Village Players written by one of the founders, Harold Meltzer.

    The book is called “All the World’s A Stage” by Harold Meltzer (1976) and is subtitled “The lively recollections of an actor who never became a star but played with some of the Greatest in England and America”

    Meltzer and his friend Frank Conroy were the public face of the project, with wealthy heiresses paying the bills. With only 300 seats, the Theater was doomed to low profitability, and when shows became popular they wasted no time moving uptown to bigger spaces. A combination of factors – Meltzer’s anti-commercialism, Conroy’s insistence on starring in all the productions, and shifting interests of the backers – led to the decision to sell the place and put a 21-story apartment building in its place.

    So they sold it, tore it down, and sunk a foundation for the grand new building in 1929. Then the Depression hit, and plans came to a screeching halt.

    Interestingly, as part of the transaction Meltzer secured control of the “Greenwich Village Inn” a hotspot for the city that was criticized alternately for being too avant-garde and for selling out to uptown thrill-seekers.

    It’s an ideal book for social historians, full of gossip, name-dropping, and insider information.

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