Three Shubert brothers transformed the operation and ownership of New York theatres from a monopolistic to a competitive environment. Levi (known as Lee), Sam and Jacob (known as JJ) were born in the border town of Shervient in Czarist Lithuania, from where they had to flee in 1882 because of Russian anti-Semitism. In that same year and for the same reason, nearly 500,000 refugees were forced to flee from Czarist Russia; this exodus, over time, brought composers like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin to America.
The Shubert family settled in Syracuse; but by 1900, the three brothers had moved to New York with $15,000, along with “high ambitions and boundless energy.” Sam became the producer and was the power behind forty-six shows before he and Lee produced their adaptation of Sheridan’s School for Scandal with music by A. Baldwin Sloane (Lady Teazle, 1904.55, with Lillian Russell), followed by Fantana (1905.03), with a book co-written by Sam and music by John Raymond Hubbell.
Disaster struck in May 1905, when Sam was killed in a train wreck. The two remaining brothers, known as “Messrs Shubert,” worked with many talented composers of the day, Reginald De Koven, Hubbell, Gustave Kerker, Alfred G. Robyn, Julian Edwards, Seymour Furth, Gustav Luders, Victor Herbert, Ben Jerome and Louis Hirsch. In 1912, they produced their 120th show (not all musicals)–Jerome Kern’s The Red Petticoat, 1912.41. The Red Petticoat was followed by Kern’s Oh, I Say! (1913.29).
In the following year, the Shuberts produced a show with Sigmund Romberg called The Whirl of the World (1914.01). This would be the start of a strong relationship between Romberg and the Shuberts, during which time (from 1914 to 1930), they would work on fourteen major shows together, including such hits as Maytime (1917.15), Blossom Time (1921.31), The Student Prince in Heidelberg (1924.25) and My Maryland (1927.42).
The two brothers would work on two shows with a young Harold Arlen (Hooray for What!, 1937.15, and Life Begins at 8:40, 1934.19) and one with an established Cole Porter (You Never Know, 1938.07). The latter part of the careers of the Shubert Brothers was focused on theatre ownership and licensing of materials for touring companies.