Home / Performers / Donald Brian - "The King of Broadway"_profdash (Stage) [7]

"The King of Broadway" Donald Brian
by David for group historicalziegfeld Jan 17, 2012

He was the Hugh Jackman of the first quarter of the 20th century on Broadway--a man so solid in his skills as a dancer, songster, actor, and comic that if he was in your musical or revue, the production would succeed. He burst like a supernova on Broadway in 1907 as the male lead in the inaugural production of "The Merry Widow," became paired in a number of important musicals with Julia Sanderson, particularly the smash hit, "The Girl From Utah," and was the first call talent when the script called for an approachable, manly young fellow possessed of a lyric streak. His ethos was much like that of Gene Kelly, except less self-conscious. His easy way in social scenes was so winning that Teddy Roosevelt asked for pointers on how to interact in public. While any numbers of contemporary male dancers possessed more virtuosic technique, his friendly manner made him the choice of the female leads. They knew he would never try to upstage them, could be depended on for support in partnering, and had a knack of telling stories with his dancing. (He was the dancer that Frank Sinatra sought out early in his career to teach him stage style hoofing.) He didn't age as well as Sinatra, Kelly, or Fred Astaire, so when he reprised his lead role in the 1932 revival of The Merry Widow, he looked more an established buhrger than a dashing officer. He was crowned King of Broadway in 1907, and his only rival for versatility in the late 1910s was Al Jolson. David S. Shields

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  • historicalzg - 1Reply
    profdash wrote on Jan 17
    I should have mentioned that he was Canadian!

    kittyinva wrote on Jan 18
    I had never heard of him, but when you tagged him as the "Hugh Jackman" of early 20th c. B'way, I just HAD to look! Thanks so much for introducing me, and probably others, to this gentleman. Kathie
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