The Smart Set Sneered, but the Play Won the Day

Woollcott finally caught up with the show two years into its run, describing it in the New York Sun as “fair to middling and uneventful,” while adding that he was baffled by its success but also by his colleagues’ vitriol toward it. He finally credited its long run to its cultivation of those very audiences who typically steered clear of Broadway.

In other words, “‘Abie’s Irish Rose’ has not only pleased its public,” he wrote. “It has created its public. ”

Today, revivals of the play, with its constant ethnic put-downs, are few and far between. Perhaps it is best known as part of a list of 20th-century arcana, alongside Brenda Frazier and Beebe’s Bathysphere, in the Sondheim song “I’m Still Here” from “Follies.”

Interviews with the leaders of major Off Broadway theaters dedicated to excavating long-neglected American plays – the Mint, the Irish Repertory Theater and the Metropolitan Playhouse – established that “Abie’s Irish Rose” is, as the Irish Rep artistic director Charlotte Moore tactfully put it , “Not something we would be inclined to put on.”

Moore is, however, a much bigger fan of Nichols: “She was born in Georgia and came to New York City – by herself! – to be an actress. And she wrote the play in three days. I’m so envious of her! ”

“Abie’s Irish Rose” finally closed in October 1927, and although Nichols (the show’s chief beneficiary as a result of having financed it himself) revived it twice on Broadway, the show lasted a combined 66 performances compared to the original’s 2,327, a record that would not be bested until the 1933 play “Tobacco Road.”

Those future babies of Lorenz Hart’s “Manhattan” would have to content themselves with “Bridget Loves Bernie,” “Chicken Soup” and “Bob Hearts Abishola,” some of the many television series that have mined the cross-cultural comedic potential that Nichols – who devoted much of her ensuing career to overseeing radio and film adaptations and touring companies of the show – harnessed with such success in the 1920s.

By the time that original run closed, “Abie’s” fatigue had extended to even the seemingly inexhaustible Benchley’s weekly Life mini-review:

“We have nothing more to do with this. It may be running and it may not. To hell with it. ”

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