A show-stopping exhibit

The curtain opens on a display of entertainment memorabilia.

Published December 3, 2006


Joel Grey. Harvey Fierstein. Sarah Bernhardt. Tennessee Williams. Gypsy Rose Lee. Truman Capote.

These are some of the great names of theater popping up at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which is marking the 75th anniversary of its Billy Rose Theatre Division with an exhibit culled from 9-million items from great shows, plus circus, vaudeville and Americana.

It is what's left of "the magic of theater. You sit there and see a performance that will never, ever happen again," said Grey, famous for his role as the master of ceremonies in the musical Cabaret.

"This exhibit is inspiring."

"Stars and Treasures: 75 Years of Collecting Theatre" is open to the public through May 5. Among the items on display is an old trunk that followed Grey around the stage while he sang Me and My Shadow at his one-man show in 1993.

The exhibit "preserves the moments of the theater that otherwise would disappear when the stage lights are lowered," said David Ferriero, who heads the library's theater research.

"In its millions of clippings, photographs, videotapes, manuscripts, programs, designs, scripts and other materials, the library provides the theatrical community with a unique window to past productions and inspiration for future works."

The exhibit includes Gypsy Rose Lee's diploma from the facetious "Minsky University of Strip-Tease," a circus lithograph by Toulouse-Lautrec and a letter from John Wilkes Booth's brother - the actor Edwin Booth - saying that he voted for Abraham Lincoln, whom his brother assassinated.

The library contacted such prominent actors as Christopher Plummer, Cherry Jones and Angela Lansbury, as well as every artist who had won a Tony Award, asking for items to contribute.

The exhibit also includes such rarities as an early draft of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and personal letters written by Williams and John Barrymore, one of the finest actors in American theater history.

"Touching that letter is exciting," said Grey.