The Theatre Guild

The Theatre Guild, founded in 1918, was a forward looking organization that produced many shows on Broadway that might not have attracted attention from any other producers. The Guild was created and operated by Lawrence Langner, Philip Moeller, Helen Westley and Theresa Helburn. It has been said that the Theatre Guild contributed greatly to the success of Broadway from the 1920s throughout the 1970s.  The Guild produced plays by foreign playwrights, such as George Bernard Shaw and Ferenc Molnar.  Among the American playwrights produced by the Guild were Eugene O’Neill, Robert E. Sherwood, Maxwell Anderson, Sydney Howard, William Saroyan and Lynn Riggs.

Green Grow The Lilacs Poster WPA 1937

Green Grow the Lilacs

The Guild gave the young team of Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart a helping hand by using two of their best songs in the The Garrick Gaieties in 1925.  

By helping Riggs get his show, Green Grow the Lilacs (1931.02), produced on Broadway, the Guild achieved a number of very important goals.  The Guild established this Midwestern playwright as a leader in folk plays; and it created a basis for a musical adaptation in later years (Oklahoma!,1943).  The production of Green Grow the Lilacs also provided acting jobs for Helen Westley, Franchot Tone, Lee Strasberg (as the peddler) and an unknown actor who would later become both a movie star and a singing sensation (Woodward (Tex) Ritter).

Theatre Guild Production of Ferenc Molnar's Liliom


Similarly, the Guild’s 1921 production of Molnar’s play, Liliom, served as the basis for the later musical adaptation in 1945 into Carousel.

The Guild took a big chance on producing George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess.  There was uncertainty about the ability of DuBose Heyward to complete the libretto on time; there was concern about the ability of Rouben Mamoulian to bring the cast together as a unit and to teach the cast about the importance of the show.  Any number of people did not believe that Gershwin could write his own orchestrations.  Could the choral director, Eva Jessye, get the right attitude and musical precision from the cast?  Finally, the two lead singers were unknown quantities; would Anne Brown and Todd Duncan be able to handle the considerable vocal strain associated with a long evening of singing, repeated many times each week?

Cast picture of Theatre Guild's production of Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess

Anne Brown and Todd Duncan

In all that they did, the great contribution made by The Guild was to point the audience forward; and we are all the better for it.