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A Streetcar Named Desire: A History

Where to begin? The Bobcat Players are tackling one of the biggest shows in American theatre this November, and we're certain you've heard of it before. A Streetcar Named Desire is the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama written by the incomparable Tennessee Williams. It is his most popular play and "considered to be one of the best and most critically successful plays of the 20th century." Yet despite the acclaim and its household name, you may not be familiar with the show's history or significance. So before you take a ride on that famous streetcar with us, here's are some highlights about this fascinating work:

  • Tennessee Williams began writing the play now known as A Streetcar Named Desire in Mexico in 1945. The play was heavily influenced by a stay in New Orleans the following year and was completed in Key West in 1947. Fun fact: you may not know that the play had four different titles through the creative process, including The Moth, The Primary Colors, and Blanche's Chair in the Moon. In fact, the working title, The Poker Night, stayed with the play until May of 1947 and only five known copies of the original typescript (with this title) exist--in fact, the last sold for $50,000!

  • A Streetcar Named Desire premiered on Broadway in December of 1947, though it first opened in New Haven--and later Philadelphia--during November 1947. Despite not being the producer's first choice, Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy originated the roles of Stanley and Blanche, with Kim Hunter as Stella and Karl Malden as Mitch. Fun fact: the audience applauded for half an hour after the debut performance! In 1948, the play won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play and Tandy took home the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. A Streetcar Named Desire closed on Broadway in 1949 after 855 performances.

  • Elia Kazan, the director of the original Broadway production, consulted with Tennessee Williams to create the film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, which Kazan also directed. The 1951 film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and set an Oscar record as the first film to win in three acting categories, though it was nominated in all four. Fun fact: the winners are probably not who you'd suspect! Marlon Brando did not win his nomination for Best Actor, though his performance in the movie really put him on the map--he was virtually unknown beforehand. Kim Hunter and Karl Malden won for Best Supporting Actress and Actor, reviving their roles from the original Broadway production. Jessica Tandy was the only lead from the original Broadway production to not participate in the film; her role was taken by Vivien Leigh, who won for Best Actress. Leigh was not a newcomer to the role though, having played Blanche in the original London production directed by Laurence Olivier. The content of the play was edited for the film--including weakening the ending.

  • There have been an incredible number of revivals of A Streetcar Named Desire, including many black and cross-gendered productions. Fun fact: the first all-black production was performed in Missouri in 1953 under the direction of one of Williams' former classmates. The first Broadway revival took place in 1973, and another in 1992 was so successful it was filmed for television. (That revival starred Alec Baldwin as Stanley and Jessica Lange as Blanche, which won her a Golden Globe.) However, that wasn't the first time A Streetcar Named Desire made it into everyone's home via the TV. Portions of the play aired in 1955 on a program called "Omnibus" and a 1984 version, adapted by one of the original collaborator's on the 1951 film, won four Emmys and a Golden Globe for Best Actress (Ann-Margret as Blanche).

  • The Desire line was a real streetcar route that ran through New Orleans from 1920-1948, when the line was then converted to buses. Fun fact: one of the original Desire streetcars currently resides in Washington, PA, at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. In fact, the museum was the first to choose from the 40 retired cars, as they had requested one back in the 1950s. To quote their website, "car 832 was selected because it was featured in Life Magazine in 1947 when the eponymous play opened on Broadway." You can visit the museum on weekends to see this incredible piece of history!

  • There have also been multiple ballet productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, the earliest taking place in 1952 using music from the film. (Two different versions have been performed in Pittsburgh in 2012 and 2015.)

An opera version was created in 1995, debuting three years later with the award-winning American soprano Renee Fleming as Blanche. A taped version was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Classical Music/Dance Program. Since its premiere, A Streetcar Named Desire has become "one of the most widely played contemporary operas" and has also been translated into German.

We hope this brief history provided some valuable insight and information that has peaked your interest in our upcoming production.There are truly so many layers to explore with this classic! Since the beginning of the month, we have been featuring trivia and other interesting facts on our Facebook page. Be sure to follow us there for updates! A Streetcar Named Desire runs November 15-16 and 21-23, with all performances at 7:30 pm. Tickets are on sale now and this isn't a show you want to miss, so we encourage you to purchase yours as soon as possible!

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