Before Robinson Auditorium opened, the stage of Little Rock High School (now Central High) was the prime performance location in Little Rock. In 1933, it welcomed the national tour of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Of Thee I Sing.
This was the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In fact, because no musical had won the award before, the jury appeared to not know how to handle a composer in a writing category. Librettists Morris Ryskind and George S. Kaufman and lyricist Ira Gershwin were named as recipients. But composer George Gershwin did not receive the Pulitzer. (In 1998, he received a posthumous Special Pulitzer.)
The musical, a satire of politics and popular culture, was directed by Mr. Kaufman. The tour came to Little Rock for one performance on February 9, 1933. The Broadway production had closed less than a month earlier after 441 performances (a very long run at the time).
The tour starred Oscar Shaw (who had played the male lead in the original production of the Gershwins’ Oh Kay!) and Harriette Lake. She would later change her name to Ann Sothern. Other main roles were played by Donald Meek and Cecil Lean. A few months after Little Rock, the tour played a month on Broadway. Miss Lake continued in her role, but the men were replaced by their original Broadway counterparts.
2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted. Many of these titles have been produced numerous times. This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.