the anderson theater

by marjorieingall on February 16, 2011

Wonderful piece, in a blog called It’s All the Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago, about the Anderson Theater, which was once on Second Avenue between Third and Fourth streets — that is, around the corner from where we live now. It began its life as a Yiddish theater in the early 1900s. In 1961, when Sholom Secunda regained the rights to Bei Mir Bistu Schoen, the most popular Yiddish song of all time — which he’d foolishly sold three decades earlier for $30 – he built a new musical around it and premiered it at the Anderson. Eventually the theater became an avant-garde playhouse and rock venue: Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company made their NYC debut there in 1968; The Grateful Dead (presented by the Hells Angels!) played there in 1970; The Cockettes made their first NYC appearance there in 1971.

But even as it was becoming a rock destination, Jewy stuff continued to play there. This is a perfect illustration of the cultural mix I love so much (and fear losing to yuppiefratville) in my neighborhood. “Bagels and Yox of ’67″ — yox! get it? — ran there in 1967; it was a Broadway revue that Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times said in 1951 “maintains an even level of noisy mediocrity.” (Atkinson’s entire review is worth reading. He explained to the NYT’s readership that  ”bagels” were “hard doughnuts,” then enumerated everything he hated everything about the show (which was everything). Except the “bits of Jewish religious and folk music.” He went on, “Someone could make a memorable musical show out of these songs by taking them seriously and not throwing them away in a tasteless revue desperately coagulated around a microphone.” Yikes! Hang on, Brooks, Fiddler on the Roof is coming in only 20 years! Atkinson furthermore sniffs, “It may be that all the Yiddish jibes are devastatingly funny, but this department cannot vouch for that, and even suspsects that in ‘Bagels and Yox’ all Yiddish words are regarded as funny, whatever they mean.” And that is still true today, you schmendrik.)

Anyway, George and Ira Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing also ran there in 1969.

In 1977, Hilly Kristal briefly opened “CBGB’s 2nd Avenue Theater” — at 1700 seats, it was way bigger than the original CBs  – in the space. Talking Heads and Patti Smith both played there. The lobby was designed to look like a tiled subway stop.

There’s fun gossip online from folks who attended shows back then — that the Hells Angels used to supply acid to the crowds, that CBGB’s 2nd Avenue Theater had to close because the “connected” funeral home next door felt that having a rock club next door was disrespectful to the dead (not The Dead, just the dead) — in any rate, CBGB’s 2nd Avenue only lasted a couple of years.

The All the Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago blog mentions that Talking Heads played the first show in the theater’s incarnation as CBGB 2nd Avenue, and the Dictators played the 2nd night. (And now my kids go to elementary school with Handsome Dick Manitoba’s. Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the years, man.)  The comments on the ASYCNSLA blog are also a total must-read. I’ll be bookmarking that site — somehow looking at all the vintage ads from long-gone venues makes their loss feel that much more acute.

Thanks to East Village Grieve for the link.

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