Don’t despair Daniel Craig: ‘Macbeth’ is cursed by the Tony Awards

A post-James Bond Daniel Craig and Oscar-nominee Ruth Negga currently are shaking things up on Broadway in the latest revival of “Macbeth,” Shakespeare’s tragedy of mayhem, power, murder and madness. The “Scottish play” has a reputation for being cursed because the Bard used real witches’ spells.

It certainly has fallen afoul of the Tony Awards over the years. Negga was nominated but Craig was snubbed. Of the 11 previous stagings of “Macbeth” since the start of the Tony Awards, only the 2008 revival merited nominations for both stars (Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood). Glenda Jackson reaped a bid in 1988 while Christopher Plummer was left in the wings.

The  first recorded production of the play in New York was way back in 1768 at the John Street Theatre, which had been built the year before. Though the closing date is unknown, the theater was demolished in 1897. Lewis Hallam, who is the only known cast member, played Macbeth. Born in 1740 ; he died in 1808, Hallam hailed from a family of actors and appeared in numerous plays in New York including several more Shakespeare plays including “Julius Caesar” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Here’s a look back at some other interesting “Macbeth” productions over the centuries.

There were duelling Macbeths in 1848. Edwin Forrest played the part at the Broadway Theatre, which was demolished in 1859. The owner and operator of the Bowery Theatre, Thomas Hamblin, also staged a production; his theater was demolished in 1929.

The legendary British actor William Charles Macready (1793-1873) played Macbeth for two performances at the Astor Place Opera House in 1848. The Encyclopedia Britannica wrote of Macready: “His performances always displayed fine artistic perceptions developed to a high degree of perfection by very comprehensive culture, and even his least successful personations had the interest resulting from thorough intellectual study. He belonged to the school of Kean rather than of Kemble; but, if his tastes were better disciplined and in some respects more refined than those of Kean, his natural temperament did not permit him to give proper effect to the great tragic parts of Shakespeare”

The long-gone Garden Theater was home to a 1910 revival which ran for three months and starred two British thespians who are all but forgotten today but tread the Broadway boards for several years: Sayre Crawley and Keith Wakeman.

Clocking in for just eight performances in October, 1935 at the venerable Ethel Barrymore Theatre was a production featuring a real-married couple: Philip Merivale, who made his Broadway debut in 1910 in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” and Gladys Cooper, who earned three Oscar nominations for supporting actress most notably for her memorable performances as Bette Davis’ vile mother in 1942’s “Now, Voyager” and Rex Harrison’s all-knowing mother in 1964’s “My Fair Lady.”

Running 67 performances in 1936 was the famous all-black “Voodoo Macbeth” that was ‘”arranged in three acts and eight scenes” by 21-year-old Orson Welles who also staged the production that was presented by the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project of the WPA and John Houseman. The play was set in the “Jungles of Mythical Island Resembling Haiti in the West Indies.” Jack Carter and Edna Thomas headlined while Canada Lee made his third Broadway appearance as Banquo.  The New York Times’ Brooks Atkinson wasn’t too impressed observing that “Jack Carter is a fine figure of a Negro in tight-fitting trousers that do justice to his anatomy but he has no command of poetry and character.”

Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson had a relatively long run of 131 performances at the National Theatre beginning in November, 1941; they reprised the roles twice on TV, with Anderson winning Emmys in both 1954 and 1960 while Evans prevailed for the latter version.

The National Theater, now known as the Nederlander, was also home to the 1948 revival starring two more British legends: Michael Redgrave and Flora Robson. The production, which ran 29 performances, featured future Oscar-winners Martin Balsam (‘A Thousand Clowns”) and Beatrice Straight (“Network”) as well as five-time Tony and three-time Emmy winner Julie Harris.

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